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Labor Losses Seen in British Council Vote


Britons are voting in local council elections Thursday amid a growing scandal over the government's mistaken release of more than a thousand foreign prisoners.

Political analysts are predicting a big political setback for Prime Minister Tony Blair after results of Thursday's ballot are collected. With well over 4,000 council seats throughout Britain at stake, opposition Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are hoping to make big gains on the ruling Labor Party.

The bungled prisoner release last week sparked a chorus of charges of charges of government incompetence. In a bid to defuse the scandal, Mr. Blair announced a new plan to deport almost all foreign convicts, but his proposal is drawing further criticism in the British press.

Some observers say a poor showing by Labor in Thursday's elections could force Mr. Blair to reshuffle his cabinet or set a date for leaving office.

Mr. Blair's government has been trying to rebut a broad range of criticism about unethical behavior and incompetence in recent days and weeks.

Interior Minister Charles Clarke faced calls for his resignation last week after he reported the accidental release of more than one thousand foreign prisoners. On the same day, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott confessed that he had an extramarital affair with a secretary. The government also has been denounced for planned cuts in hospital services.

Prime Minister Blair, who was elected in 1997, has already said he will not run for a fourth term. Britain's next general election is due in 2010.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.