200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade
Asked why the House of Commons was to debate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, since this was not a legislative matter, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) replied that it was a matter that was of deep interest to a large section of the population of this country. Therefore it was right and proper that the Prime Minister had expressed his regret on the issue, and that it was part of the debate this year of all years. It would be inappropriate not to recognise that. Asked if someone had been found to speak for slavery, the PMOS replied this was a superficial point. Many people in this country felt very deeply about slavery and therefore it was important to recognise that, and important that we did not reduce it to simplicity.
Asked if the Prime Minister would be marking the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq with a statement or comment, given that the President of the United States had made a statement, the PMOS replied that we were not planning anything in particular, but the Prime Minister had made his views on the current situation in Iraq remarkably clear. Taking the overall feed out of the opinion polls, the Sunday Times poll showed that 2 to 1 were in favour of the current regime rather than under Saddam; 2/3 of the Iraqi public had confidence in the Iraqi police and army (from USA Today/ABC/BBC poll); 56% did not think it was a civil war; and 94% did not want the country divided along ethnic lines (BBC poll). Whilst everyone recognised the difficulties, equally people should be clear about the underlying Iraqi sentiment.
Asked if the Prime Minister would be seeing Ian Paisley this week to talk about power sharing, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that it was likely that there would be a meeting. What was important was that the message from the election was very clear; people wanted to see devolution and they wanted to see it by next Monday. What we now had to see was whether politicians would listen to that voice.
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with what Lord Falconer had said recently about geriatric "lifers", the PMOS replied that what Lord Falconer was doing was setting out Government policy. Government policy was that those who posed a serious risk to the public should stay in prison.
Asked if there had been any diplomatic moves regarding Zimbabwe, the PMOS replied that the important thing regarding Zimbabwe was that Africans led the process, and the African leaders had been bolder in a reaction to recent events than before. The Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete visited President Mugabe yesterday, and President Kikwete and President Mbeke had launched a new initiative to address the crisis. The PMOS said that there was a summit of southern African leaders coming up soon, and that would help set out the next steps. For our part, we were keeping the pressure up, which included EU sanctions in the form of freezing assets and banning travel for over 100 of the top leadership in Zimbabwe. We would do everything we could to maintain the pressure, but the important thing in influencing events on the ground was that this was seen as being with the Africans in the lead, rather than us. However, we could fulfil a part in pushing it from behind.
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