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Last Updated: Monday, 18 April 2005, 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK
When George met Salam
Sketch
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News political reporter

Only George Galloway could upstage his own manifesto launch.

George Galloway

The ex-Labour MP's fledgling Respect party's only realistic chance of gaining a seat at Westminster is in Bethnal Green and Bow, where Mr Galloway is standing against pro-war Labour MP Oona King.

The contest is already proving to be a bitter one. Mr Galloway's supporters were accused of anti-Semitism by Ms King following an egg throwing incident at a World War II memorial service - a charge vehemently denied by Respect.

Mr Galloway ratcheted up the drama still further as reporters gathered in a small upstairs room in Bishopsgate, on the eastern edge of the City of London, ostensibly for the launch of Respect's manifesto.

The former Glasgow Kelvin MP began by saying he would not be staying long. Respect was planning to launch a legal action to suspend postal voting and he had an urgent meeting with the party's lawyers.

'Obscene' profits

He said he was angry about a campaign by Labour and union activists to get people to send their applications for postal votes to a Labour clearing house - something Labour insists is within the law.

READ THE MANIFESTO
Most computers will open PDF documents automatically, but you may need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader.

"The very minimum that we would expect a judge to decide is for postal votes to be counted separately from the votes cast at the ballot box and announced separately," Mr Galloway told reporters.

He denied he was being "alarmist" about the issue.

He was pressed briefly on what Respect: The Unity Coalition was actually unified about, which prompted a diatribe about contracting out of hospital cleaning services, protecting civil liberties, fighting privatization and what he called the "obscene" profits made by Tesco.

He also found time to quote John Lennon: "You may say we are dreamers, no doubt some of you will write that, based on my long experience, but we are not the only ones who dream of a better country and a better world."

He claimed people working in the City were paying less tax now than under Margaret Thatcher, adding: "The unfairness of Britain is vividly seen in the borough of Tower Hamlets, perhaps more than it is anywhere in the country".

And with that, he was gone.

Baghdad blogger

Or he would have been if it had not been for Salam Pax.

Salam Pax
Salam Pax confronted Mr Galloway
The "Baghdad blogger" was at the event to make a film for Newsnight, and he managed to snatch a brief interview with Mr Galloway before the Respect candidate dashed off to his meeting with the lawyers.

"I know who you are," said Mr Galloway, warily eyeing Mr Pax, whose weblog gave the world an insight into the lives of ordinary Iraqis in the run-up to the US-led invasion.

Mr Pax wanted to know why Mr Galloway wanted the immediate withdrawal of occupying troops from Iraq.

"I really don't think we are going to agree on this. You supported the war and I opposed it," said Mr Galloway.

"You welcomed the invasion of foreign armies into your country. I opposed it. So we are not going to agree on this, which is why I didn't think it would be productive to have a discussion with you and I do have to go now."

'Illegal war'

But Mr Pax - whose real name has never been revealed - pressed the point.

Galloway: "I just want to be honest with you. You can not demand that our armed forces occupy your country - that's a matter for us.

"It's not a matter for you - it's a matter for us. Now I think there are millions of people in this country who think the war was illegal, was wrong shouldn't have happened and should be immediately withdrawn from. We are entitled to that point of view and we are."

Mr Pax "shouldn't have supported" the war in the first place, added Mr Galloway.

But Mr Pax countered that would be tantamount to supporting the continuation of a regime like Saddam's.

Galloway: "We are not going to agree on this. You are a supporter of the war. You are a supporter of the occupation and I am an opponent. Your family joined the puppet government."

Pax: "We are helping to build the new Iraq."

Galloway: "That's your point of view, it's not our point of view and you are entitled to your opinion, and I welcome you to London, and I am entitled to mine - and let's see what the British people think."

And with that, Mr Galloway really was gone.

Meanwhile, back in the meeting room, Respect's chairman John Rees and the two candidates Mr Galloway had been sharing the platform with, got on with the more mundane task of launching the party's manifesto.





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