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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 26 February, 2003, 21:36 GMT
Blair hit by Iraq rebellion
Anti-war placards in London
European leaders are under pressure
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has suffered a major rebellion by members of his own Labour Party over his policy towards Iraq.

More than 120 Labour members of parliament backed an amendment to a government-sponsored motion, saying the case for military action against Iraq was "as yet unproven".

French President Jacques Chirac's anti-war views are also coming under scrutiny in the French Assembly, where many of his own party are worried about lasting rifts with Washington.

As the US and UK push for concrete decisions over Iraq, chief United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix has repeated that Iraq needs to do more.

"I do not think I can say there is evidence of a fundamental decision [to disarm] but there is some evidence of some increased activity," he said. "There is certainly more activity now."

Anti-war placards in London
8,500 missing litres of anthrax growth medium
6,500 missing chemical bombs
3,000 missing tons of chemical precursors
550 missing artillery shells filled with mustard gas
360 missing tons of chemical warfare agents, including 1.5 tons of VX nerve agent
50 missing long-range missile warheads

The BBC's world affairs correspondent Peter Biles says Mr Blix's assessment that Iraq was not co-operating fully would be seized on by the US and UK as ammunition for their view that Saddam Hussein may have to be forced to disarm.

But in an interview with the German weekly Die Zeit, Mr Blix said inspections should be given a "few more months" - which is the view of France, Germany and other UN Security Council members.

"[Iraq] had eight years of inspections, four years without them, and now 12 weeks with them," Mr Blix said.

"Is it the right time to close the door?"

Challenge to Blair

The show of defiance by his MPs marked the biggest revolt of Mr Blair's six years in office.

But the government won the main vote insisting that Saddam Hussein disarms.

Mr Blair earlier gave an impassioned address, telling legislators he was giving Saddam Hussein "one further final chance to disarm voluntarily" by delaying a vote on a new United Nations resolution for two weeks.

By contrast, Mr Chirac's view that UN weapons inspections must be given more time enjoys widespread public and political backing in France.

But some politicians from his own party fear that if France uses its veto at the Security Council to block a new resolution, it could not only destroy transatlantic relations but also irreparably undermine the UN.

'I will die in Iraq'

Concern at the possible disastrous consequences of war has led to suggestions - although never viewed as realistic - that President Saddam Hussein go into exile.

I believe that whoever... offers Saddam asylum in his own country is in fact a person without morals
Saddam Hussein

But in extracts from a US television interview, the Iraqi leader dismissed the proposals.

Speaking to veteran television journalist Dan Rather, he said: "We will die here. We will die in this country and we will maintain our honour."

The Iraqi leader also challenged President Bush to a TV debate on war - an offer promptly rejected by the White House.

Saddam also said that Iraq:

  • Had no links to al-Qaeda

  • Would not set fire to oil fields or destroy dams if there was an invasion

  • Had no missiles which exceeded UN permitted limits

Mr Blix has demanded the destruction of a stock of al-Samoud II missiles - which fly beyond the 150 kilometres (93 miles) permitted - by Saturday in what is being seen as a major test of Iraq's willingness to comply with UN orders.

'Crunch time'

The contrasting views on the crisis have been highlighted in the debates taking place in the French and UK parliaments.

We must say here today in this chamber that the case has not been fully made
Chris Smith
Former cabinet minister

In London, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw warned it was "crunch time" for Saddam Hussein.

The Iraqi leader could bring about a peaceful solution by disarming immediately, Mr Straw said, but simply allowing inspections to continue would not guarantee that as Saddam could simply use them as a delaying tactic.

"This delay would give Saddam the clearest possible signal that his strategy is succeeding," he said.

"It would tell him that the international community lacks the will to disarm him, and it would tell all those who threaten our security that Saddam Hussein has broken the UN as an instrument for defending peace through the force of international law."

But, opening discussion in the French Assembly, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said France would not support the further Security Council resolution being pushed by the US and the UK.

He added that war "would divide the international community... [and] weaken the coalition against terrorism".

In other developments:

  • All tanker traffic from Turkey to Iraq through the land border has been halted by the Turkish authorities; all Turkish tankers in northern Iraq have been recalled

  • German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin - both countries oppose war

  • Officials say that only about a half of the UK jets due in the Gulf have arrived because Muslim countries have refused overflights

  • Iraqi opposition groups hold a big meeting in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq - President Bush's special envoy attends

  • The Washington Post newspaper reports the cost of war is being estimated at $95bn before any money is spent on reconstruction

The BBC's David Chazan
"Blair's victory came at the cost of a rebellion from his own party"

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