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Blair Faces Key Vote On Renewing Nuclear Deterrent

The UK's Trident Nuclear Missile System is critical to maintaining London's big power status.
by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Mar 14, 2007
The British government faces a controversial vote in parliament on Wednesday over Prime Minister Tony Blair's plans to renew the country's independent nuclear deterrent.

A large rebellion from rank-and-file ruling Labour party MPs is expected, and though the government is not expected to lose the vote, it will likely have to rely on the support of the main opposition Conservatives to push the proposals through.

Two junior members of the government have already resigned over the issue -- deputy leader of the Commons Nigel Griffiths and junior health department aide Jim Devine -- so that they could vote against Blair's 20-billion-pound (29-billion-euro, 38-billion-dollar) plans to replace the US-built system.

Nuclear weapons are still a divisive issue in the Labour Party as unilateral nuclear disarmament was once official Labour policy in the 1980s.

A BBC radio poll on Sunday said 64 out of 101 Labour MPs they asked were against the proposals to renew the Trident system. A further 15 were undecided, while 22 backed the proposals.

And on Tuesday, lobby group the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) said 105 MPs, including 62 from Labour, had signed an amendment to the vote calling for more time to discuss the issue.

Opponents have accused Blair of stifling debate on the subject and claim Trident is a costly, obsolete relic of the Cold War and is no longer required.

Joining their calls was the Financial Times newspaper, which asked in its editorial column: "Why now?"

According to the newspaper, MPs "are being rushed into a decision that need not be taken now," and the government "has failed to convince that the decision is needed now."

Anti-nuclear campaigners are set to stage protests outside parliament, with CND having taken out a full-page advertisement in The Guardian newspaper calling on readers to lobby their local MPs, and to join a rally on Parliament Square.

The Guardian reported on Wednesday meanwhile that Trident was itself getting an upgrade, with a defence ministry spokesman saying its targeting system was being moderised.

"This has nothing to do with any potential successor to Trident on which decisions have still to be taken."

earlier related report
Greenpeace In British Parliament Protest Over Nuclear Weapons
London (AFP) March 13, 2007 Four peace activists climbed a crane on the River Thames outside Britain's Houses of Parliament on Tuesday to campaign against Prime Minister Tony Blair's plans to renew the country's nuclear deterrent.

Protesters from Greenpeace clambered an estimated 200 feet (61 metres) up the maintenance crane moored on the river and unfurled a banner suggesting Blair "loved" weapons of mass destruction.

Lawmakers in parliament's lower House of Commons are to debate and vote on Wednesday whether to back Blair's controversial 20-billion-pound (29-billion-euro, 38-billion-dollar) plan to replace the US-built Trident missile system.

Greenpeace said in a statement that its activists scaled the structure at about 6:00 am (0600 GMT) and were "phoning MPs" (members of parliament) to persuade them to vote against the government.

"The four volunteers aim to occupy the crane until the vote takes place," a spokesman said.

"They hope to telephone as many MPs as possible urging them not to support new weapons of mass destruction."

Nuclear weapons are still a divisive issue in Blair's governing Labour Party as unilateral nuclear disarmament was once official Labour policy in the 1980s.

Many traditionalists accuse Blair of stifling debate on the subject and claim Trident is a costly, obsolete relic of the Cold War and is no longer required.

On Monday, one of Blair's junior ministers -- deputy leader of the Commons Nigel Griffiths -- resigned so he could vote against the government. He was joined on Tuesday by junior health department aide Jim Devine.

A widespread rebellion from rank-and-file Labour lawmakers is widely predicted.

A BBC radio poll on Sunday said 64 out of the 101 Labour MPs they asked were against Blair's plans. A further 15 were undecided, while 22 backed the proposals.

And on Tuesday, lobby group the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) said 105 MPs, including 62 from Labour, had signed an amendment to the vote calling for more time to discuss the issue.

Blair is not expected to lose the vote but will have to rely on the support of the main opposition Conservative Party, who broadly back his plans for a new submarine-based weapons system.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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North Korea Deal Faces First Test
Seoul (UPI) March 13, 2007
The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency embarked on a two-day tour of North Korea Tuesday in a litmus test for implementing a landmark deal on ending the communist country's nuclear weapons programs. During the visit, Mohammed El-Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, will try to coax North Korea to allow his inspectors back into the country. He is also expected to seek a list and details of all its nuclear sites.







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