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Blair Won't Resign Over Adviser's Suicide

Blair Won't Resign Over Adviser's Suicide

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LONDON (AP) -- Prime Minister Tony Blair said he would take full responsibility if an inquiry finds the government contributed to the suicide of scientist David Kelly -- identified Sunday by the British Broadcasting Corp. as its main source in accusing the government of hyping weapons evidence to justify war in Iraq.

Blair, dogged on his trip through east Asia by angry charges about the Ministry of Defense adviser's death, said he has no intention of resigning over the dispute, as some critics at home have demanded.

He welcomed the BBC's announcement, which temporarily shifted the angriest public criticism from his administration to the broadcaster, whose credibility came under attack.

"In the end, the government is my responsibility and I can assure you the judge (heading the inquiry) will be able to get to what facts, what people, what papers he wants," Blair told Sky News.

The prime minister also said at a joint news conference with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in Seoul that he would testify in the investigation.

Kelly's suicide has visibly shaken Blair, who learned of it at the start of an exhausting Asian trip after flying first across the Atlantic to give a speech to the U.S. Congress.

He appeared tense and preoccupied during appearances Saturday in Japan, and his characteristic wide grins were replaced by a withering glare when a reporter shouted: "Have you got blood on your hands, prime minister?"

Blair's government and the state-funded BBC have been embroiled in a bitter, drawn-out battle over a May 29 radio report by journalist Andrew Gilligan.

The report quoted an anonymous source as saying officials had "sexed up" evidence about Iraqi weapons to justify war and insisted on publishing a claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy some chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes -- despite intelligence experts' doubts.

After Kelly, a quiet, bearded microbiologist with a sterling international reputation, told his Ministry of Defense bosses he'd spoken to Gilligan, the ministry identified him as a possible source for the report.

Kelly was questioned by a parliamentary committee, and just days later, on Friday, police found his body in the woods near his Oxfordshire home. They said bled to death from a slashed left wrist.

"We can confirm that Dr. Kelly was the principal source" for Gilligan's story, the BBC said in a statement Sunday. "The BBC believes we accurately interpreted and reported the factual information obtained by us during interviews with Dr. Kelly."

The statement said Kelly had also been the source for a piece by reporter Susan Watts on its "Newsnight" analysis program.

Politicians across the ideological spectrum accused the BBC of inaccurately reporting Kelly's comments, citing his parliamentary testimony that while he spoke privately to Gilligan, he did not recognize the journalist's most damaging claims as his own.

"I believe I am not the main source," Kelly told the committee. "From the conversation I had, I don't see how (Gilligan) could make the authoritative statement he was making."

Assuming the BBC had no secondary source who made the report's central claims, the critics accused Gilligan of twisting Kelly's words.

Gilligan denied that Sunday evening.

"I want to make it clear that I did not misquote or misrepresent Dr. David Kelly," Gilligan said in a statement pointing out that Kelly also had been a source for the "Newsnight" report.

"Entirely separately from my meeting with him, Dr. Kelly expressed very similar concerns about Downing Street interpretation of intelligence in the dossier and the unreliability of the 45-minute point to 'Newsnight,"' his statement said.

Conservative Party lawmaker Robert Jackson, who represents Kelly's home district, told the BBC earlier in the day that he believed Gilligan "dressed up what was said to him by Dr. Kelly."

"I believe that the BBC has knowingly, for some weeks, been standing by a story that it knew was wrong," he said.

Tory legislator Michael Fabricant defended the broadcaster, saying it had been right not to reveal Kelly's name until now. He said there was no evidence to suggest the BBC had misrepresented the scientist's comments.

Throughout the dispute, the BBC had refused to say whether Kelly, who was a top United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq in the 1990s, had been its source.

"Over the past few weeks we have been at pains to protect Dr. Kelly being identified as the source of these reports," the BBC statement said. "We clearly owed him a duty of confidentiality. Following his death, we now believe, in order to end the continuing speculation, it is important to release this information as swiftly as possible."

The statement said the BBC had waited until Sunday to make the announcement at the Kelly family's request.

The BBC, one of the world's most respected news organizations, would not comment on its reason for making a rare exception to journalists' normal practice of refusing to name anonymous sources.

The network's statement said it would cooperate fully with the inquiry into Kelly's suicide, providing details of its reporters' contacts with the scientist including their notes.

"We continue to believe we were right to place Dr. Kelly's views in the public domain," the BBC statement said. "However, the BBC is profoundly sorry that his involvement as our source has ended so tragically."

Gilligan's report helped prompt two parliamentary probes into the government's weapons claims, and Blair aides for weeks been demanding a retraction and an apology.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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