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U.K.'s Cameron, Clegg finalize coalition deal

Friday, May 21, 2010

LONDON -- Britain's coalition government outlined a joint program Thursday, promising support for the Afghanistan war, a new drive toward Middle East peace and a "close and frank" relationship with the United States.

Prime Minister David Cameron and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg published details of the agreement struck between their Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties after the country's inconclusive May 6 election, in which no party won a clear majority to govern.

"Some policies have been lost on both sides, some have been changed and yes -- we have had to find ways to deal with the issues where we profoundly disagree," Cameron told reporters in London as he unveiled the plan.

The deal promises to support enlargement of the U.N. Security Council, to review an extradition treaty between Britain and the U.S. seen by some as unfair, and to rule out joining -- or even preparing for entry into -- the European single currency.

Clegg's party has long favored closer European ties and eventual British entry into the euro, a policy which is an anathema to Cameron's deeply euroskeptic Conservatives.

Cameron will hold talks in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday, and travel to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin today to discuss European ties and the continent's fragile economy.

He said Britain would not support closer economic governance in Europe as a response to the debt crisis in Greece, which needed a $134.97 billion three-year rescue loan package from other EU countries and the International Monetary Fund to stave off bankruptcy.

"We don't believe there should be further transfer of powers in that way," Cameron said.

The joint agreement says any new attempt by the European Union to expand its powers would need to be approved in Britain by a public referendum.

Clegg and Cameron's joint government promises to support "concerted international efforts" to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon -- but does not specify whether the Liberal Democrats will give up their policy of opposing any military action against Tehran.

While the program endorses the previous government's decision to authorize the $32 billion replacement of Britain's fleet of nuclear-armed submarines, Clegg's lawmakers -- who oppose the plan -- are free to "continue to make the case for alternatives."

Their joint program promises to "maintain a strong, close and frank relationship with the United States," but to bolster links with India and China, and focus on extending trading and diplomatic ties to fast growing economies beyond Europe or North America.

It backs permanent U.N. Security Council seats for Japan, India, Brazil, Germany and an African representative.

The government also promised a significant judicial overhaul, including a contentious proposal to grant anonymity to suspects accused of rape. Rape victims already are granted anonymity. Officials said details of the change had yet to be decided but it was likely the ban on identification would be lifted if a suspect was convicted.

Women's rights activists condemned the move. Ruth Hall of Women Against Rape said it would "reinforce the misconception that lots of women who report rape are lying."

The government also has announced a review of extradition laws covering the transfer of suspects from Britain to the United States that could have implications in the cases of Gary McKinnon, who is wanted by U.S. prosecutors over the alleged hacking of U.S. military computers, and Abu Hamza al-Masri, a radical preacher accused of setting up a terrorist training camp in rural Oregon.

McKinnon's planned extradition was put on hold Thursday.

But Cameron and Clegg said reducing Britain's record 163-billion-pound ($235 billion) budget deficit will be prioritized over all other plans.

Treasury chief George Osborne will outline details next week regarding the 6 billion pounds ($8.9 billion) of spending cuts planned for this year.


Online:

Britain's coalition agreement http://bit.ly/cTIZRY


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