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March 22, 2003
 
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(Reuters Photo)
Seven Die as UK Helicopters Crash, Poll Boosts Blair

Reuters


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March 22

By Stephen Addison

LONDON (Reuters) - Seven airmen died when two British helicopters collided in mid-air on Saturday and three ITN journalists were missing in Iraq after their car came under fire -- possibly from British artillery.

But the British government insisted the campaign against Iraq was going to plan and a new poll showed support for Prime Minister Tony Blair had jumped since the war started.

In London and several other British cities, however, thousands of anti-war demonstrators took to the streets, demanding "Blair Out!" and "Bring Our Boys Home."

After a weekend war cabinet, Blair expressed his "deep sadness" over the helicopter crash in which six British crewmen and one American officer died.

The loss of the two British Sea Kings followed the crash in Kuwait on Friday of a U.S. Sea Knight helicopter, which killed eight British soldiers and four U.S. Marines.

Britain's military casualties in the Gulf have now reached 14. Blair has committed 45,000 British troops alongside nearly a quarter of a million Americans.

The three missing journalists, who were on their way to the southern city of Basra, were working for Britain's ITN which identified them as correspondent Terry Lloyd, 51, editor Fred Nerac and local translator Hussein Othman.

The crew, which unlike most journalists covering the war was unattached to any U.S. or British unit, had come under fire at Iman Anas, near the southern port of Basra.

ITN Chairman Mark Wood told Reuters: "One of the crew, Daniel Demoustier, was injured but was able to get to safety. He was not able to see what happened to his colleagues and at present, they are still missing."

Demoustier, who had a black eye and cuts to his face, later told ITV news what had happened.

"I had to duck down straight away -- windows were exploding inside the car. I looked to my right side and the right door, where my correspondent (Lloyd) was, was open and he was not there any more."

Asked where he thought the gunfire came from, he said: "From the right hand side, the British side," although he added: "I'm not saying it was coming from the British."

The Ministry of Defense said the ITN crew had gone through several checkpoints where they had been told to turn back.

"It's quite possible they were caught up in some sort of crossfire," a spokesman told Reuters.

Earlier, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said the war was "going according to plan and in many respects is ahead of the plan."

But he declined to be drawn on when the fighting might end.

"I really do not think it is sensible to talk in terms of a timescale," he said. "I am not in the prediction business."

In London some 200,000 people marched to denounce the war.

"I think Blair has gone totally against the wishes of the British people," said protester Rick Edwards, out with his eight-year-old daughter.

But an ICM poll, due to be published on Sunday, showed 56 percent of Britons believed Blair's handling of the crisis had been "about right" while 26 percent thought he had been "too firm" in launching a war against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The News of the World newspaper, which publishes Sunday's poll, said support two weeks ago was just 29 percent.


photo credit and caption:
HMS Ocean is seen at daybreak during a search for two Royal Navy helicopters and seven crew after a collision in the Gulf, March 22, 2003. Despite the collision that claimed all seven aboard, the British government insisted that its campaign against Iraq was still going according to plan. After a weekend war cabinet, Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed his 'deep sadness' over the crash in which six British crewmen and one American officer died. Photo by Pool/Reuters

Copyright 2003 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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