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UK politicians start bid to impeach Blair
Updated: 2004-11-25 00:23

Parliamentarians and celebrity campaigners launched a bid on Wednesday to impeach Tony Blair for "gross misconduct" over his justification for the Iraq war.

The impeachment move, a symbolic parliamentary process rather than a realistic proposition in Blair's case, is the first since the mid-19th century.

Its supporters, including well-known figures like novelist Frederick Forsyth and actor Corin Redgrave, want to punish Blair for allegedly misleading the country over the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

With only 23 lawmakers backing an impeachment motion in parliament, Blair can rest assured he will not face the ultimate sanction of removal from office but it could embarrass a prime minister who remains vulnerable to events in Iraq.

"This is born out of the frustration of many parliamentarians that we simply cannot hold the prime minister to account in any other way," said Jenny Tonge, member of parliament (MP) for the opposition Liberal Democrats.

"It doesn't matter where it goes. The important thing is to show we're trying," she told a news conference.

The motion calls for a select parliamentary committee to be established to examine Blair's conduct on Iraq and to report back within 48 days on whether there are grounds to impeach him.

Blair's Labour Party has a majority of more than 150 seats in the House of Commons. No Labour MPs have signed the motion although its backers say some in Labour secretly support it.

The MPs from various opposition parties hope to force a debate in parliament over Blair's pre-war assertion that Iraq's banned weapons posed a threat. No weapons of mass destruction have been found.

More MPs would likely have to back the motion for a debate to proceed.

Blair has been harangued over the war and his public trust and popularity ratings have plunged, although he remains well on track to win the next election, expected in May.

Under fire, Blair apologized earlier this year for wrong intelligence on Iraq but he will not say sorry for waging the war and insists he did not mislead parliament or the public.

"I see this as a chance for parliament to begin righting the great wrong done to it, the country and the cause of international peace by the unjust and illegal war instigated by George W. Bush and supported by Tony Blair," said Scottish author Iain Banks, who attended the news conference.

Welsh nationalist MP Adam Price started a campaign during the summer to have Blair impeached, publishing a 99-page report titled "A Case to Answer," which set out the legal argument.

It would be the first time the ancient parliamentary power of impeachment has been used in Britain since a failed attempt to prosecute a foreign secretary 198 years ago.

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