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Blair To Step Down Next Year

Prime Minister Tony Blair promised Thursday to resign within a year, hoping to appease critics in his governing Labour Party who are calling for his departure by revealing a time frame he had badly wanted to keep private.

"I would have preferred to do this in my own way," Blair said, but conceded that he'd been forced to act by a week of public turmoil in the party. He refused to set a specific departure date, but said the annual Labour Party conference this month would be his last. Next year's conference is scheduled for September 2007.

"The precise timetable has to be left to me and has to be done in the proper way," said Blair, who took office in 1997.

CBS News' Vicki Barker reports the media feeding frenzy in London had been escalating all day, with live helicopter images showing Blair's motorcade puttering up to a north London school, where he made the announcement.

The prime minister, who once commanded Labour with an unassailable authority, now appears to be at the mercy of demands from its restive lawmakers. It was not immediately clear whether his new exit strategy will be detailed and speedy enough to satisfy them.

Labour loyalists urging Blair to leave office soon — or at least announce a departure date — have grown more vocal in recent weeks. Their protests have been fueled by widespread anger at his handling of the recent fighting in the Middle East and anxiety over Labour's slide in the polls.

Blair has also faced strong opposition within his party because of his steadfast support for President Bush in the Iraq war.

Eight junior officials quit Wednesday to insist on Blair's resignation and news reports said Blair and Treasury chief Gordon Brown, who is considered likely to be the next prime minister, had shouting arguments in Blair's office about a handover date.

But the two may ultimately have reached an understanding.

Brown, opening a children's sports tournament in Glasgow, Scotland, said shortly before the prime minister's announcement that while he like others had had questions about Blair's plans, he would support his decisions.

"When I met the prime minister yesterday I said to him ... it is for him to make the decision," said Brown, who looked relaxed and cheerful. "I will support him in the decisions he makes."

"This cannot and should not be about private arrangements but of what is in the best interests of our party ... and the best interests of our country," Brown said.

CBS News asked Philip Stephens, chief political editor of the Financial Times, what a change at the top of the British government would mean for U.S.-British relations.

"Well I think if Tony Blair leaves there'll never be another prime minister quite as close as he's been to an American president," Stephens said.

"I don't think in any way that Gordon Brown, the most likely although not the certain successor, is anti-American. … But I think the politics of Iraq means that it would be politically difficult for any prime minister to be quite as close as Blair has been. And I think Gordon Brown instinctively isn't as, if you like, convinced of the necessity of the alliance with Washington as Blair has been," Stephens said.

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