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Blair: Kelly’s Death ‘Terrible Tragedy’

July 19, 2003

TOKYO (AP) _ Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed his sadness on Saturday over the apparent death of a former U.N. weapons inspector who was at the center of a storm over claims the government hyped intelligence on Iraqi arms, calling it a ``terrible tragedy.″

The police discovery of a body thought to be that of David Kelly overshadowed the start Saturday of Blair’s five-day visit to Asia, with some in Britain calling for him to return home to deal with the crisis.

Blair urged politicians and the media to show ``some respect and restraint″ during a judicial inquiry into the death.

``I hope that we can set aside the speculation and the claims and the counterclaims and allow that due process to take its proper course,″ he said.

Blair’s tour in Asia is intended to deal with issues including North Korea’s nuclear program and the rebuilding of Iraq. But like his stop in Washington on Thursday, attention was mainly on the controversy over the intelligence put forward by Blair and President Bush to justify the invasion of Iraq.

That controversy took a darker turn with the discovery of the body Friday. The death is potentially damaging for Blair’s administration and questions will be asked about why it unmasked Kelly as the possible source of the leak. A leading opposition lawmaker suggested the prime minister should return to London to deal with the crisis.

``There are very many questions that will need to be asked over the coming days and I think if I were the prime minister I would want to be back here to deal with these,″ said Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith.

Smith said Parliament may have to be recalled from its summer recess.

But Blair’s official spokesman said Saturday that the prime minister intended to continue with his tour, which will also take him to South Korea, China and Hong Kong.

The government had pointed to Kelly, 59, as the source of a British Broadcasting Corp. report that a September dossier had been redrafted by Blair’s office, against the wishes of the intelligence chief, to include the claim that Saddam Hussein could launch illicit weapons on 45 minutes’ notice.

Kelly told a parliamentary committee he did not think he was the source. He disappeared from his home in the English village of Southmoor on Thursday and a body resembling him was found the next day. Police have not commented on the cause of death.

The defense expert came under intense questioning before Parliament, and friends said he was stressed about being dragged into the controversy.

Blair, who learned of the death on his flight from Washington to Tokyo, described Kelly as ``a fine, public servant who did an immense amount of good for his country in the past, and I’m sure would have done so again in the future.″

Shortly before addressing business leaders in Tokyo, Blair said, ``This is an absolutely terrible tragedy. I’m profoundly sad for David Kelly and his family.″

The tragic turn in controversy is likely to hound Blair, who is traveling with his wife Cherie, throughout the remainder of his Asian trip. Dozens of British reporters are traveling with the prime minister and as fresh details emerge in London, they are bound to raise the issue at news conferences intended to focus on foreign rather than domestic affairs.

Blair was set to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi later Saturday to discuss the 9-month-old crisis over North Korea’s nuclear development and possible Japanese involvement in efforts to reconstruct Iraq.

He told business leaders he ``greatly welcomed Japan’s contribution to political stability in the region″ _ including in East Timor and the Sri Lankan peace process.

Blair paid tribute to Koizumi’s work in ensuring Japan played a ``full role politically as well as economically″ in international affairs.

Update hourly