Blair Says He Will Bow Out Within 12 Months

LONDON -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged Thursday to quit within a year but declined to give an exact date to mutineers in his Labour Party who want a speedy ouster to revive their fortunes.

Blair's statement came in a tumultuous week that saw his authority crumble in the face of party revolts after nearly a decade in power and three consecutive election victories.

His popularity has tumbled in opinion polls after government scandals over sleaze and mismanagement were compounded by controversy over the wars in Iraq and Lebanon.

The prime minister said in a televised statement after a visit to a London school that this month's annual conference of Britain's ruling party would be his last as leader.

But he added: "I'm not going to set a precise date now, I don't think that's right. I will do that at a future date and I'll do it in the interests of the country."

His finance minister and expected successor, Gordon Brown, who has had an often-tense relationship with Blair, said earlier that he would support the prime minister's decision, but stressed it would have to be in the interests of the party and the country.

By not giving a precise timetable, Blair might not have done enough to quell the worst crisis of his political career and end party bickering, one Labour lawmaker said. "The problem, obviously, inevitably, is people will say 'Well, [within] 12 months could be 365 days or 2 days.' ... But I hope it will have given a lot of people second thoughts," Labour deputy Stephen Pound told BBC television.

Labour holds its annual conference later this month in the northern English city of Manchester and party members had been clamoring to know whether it would be Blair's last.

Hailed as a hero after dragging the Labour Party out of 18 years in the political wilderness, Blair has seen his support ebbing away in a decline mirroring the dramatic slide in Margaret Thatcher's fortunes at the end of her reign as prime minister.

With party colleagues running scared about losing their jobs at the next election, a junior minister and seven government aides quit Wednesday after calling on Blair to step down immediately.