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Europe: Blair Officially Takes Over As British Prime Minister


London, 2 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Labor Leader Tony Blair has officially entered Britain's Prime Minister's residence at 10 Downing Street following his party's landslide defeat of John Major's Conservative party yesterday. At the age of 43, he has become Britain's youngest prime minister since 1812.

In a lightening-fast transfer of power earlier today, Major announced he was stepping down from the leadership of the Conservative party; moved out of the Downing Street residence he had called home for seven years; and drove to Buckingham Palace to hand his resignation as prime minister to Queen Elizabeth.

Blair followed Major to Buckingham Palace, where he was officially appointed prime minister by the Queen. Arriving at 10 Downing Street with his wife and three young children, Blair was greeted by hundreds of Labor Party workers waving Union Jack flags and chanting "Labor, Labor."

Blair promised that his party will govern in the interests of all the people of Britain.

The European Union has welcomed the Labor Party's victory. Foreign Minister Hans van Mierlo of the Netherlands, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said the victory showed "a whole atmosphere of taking new roads" in Britain. He said he hoped the change would make London a stronger backer of the Union.

Many other European leaders also welcomed the Labor Party victory, saying they hoped it would mark a lessening of skepticism in Britain about stronger economic ties between EU member states.

French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette said in Paris that the election "marked a decline in British euroskepticism."

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl expressed hope that the ballot would mean a more pro-European stand from Britain. But he said that Labor's election program was "very cautious" on questions of greater European integration for Britain.

The United States, Norway, Japan, Indonesia and Australia have also congratulated the Labor Party on its victory.
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