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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blair: Apathy May Cost Labour

LONDON -- With three days of campaigning left ahead of the national election, British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Monday that apathy and protest votes could cost his governing Labour Party a third term in office.

Labour is comfortably ahead in opinion polls, but turnout on May 5 could be crucial. Blair fears that a backlash over the Iraq war, causing core supporters to stay at home or switch allegiance, could damage his party's fortunes.

As Blair held his morning news conference Monday, the Ministry of Defense announced a British soldier had been killed in fighting in Iraq, bringing the death toll of British troops there to 87. The prime minister expressed his condolences to the soldier's family but sought to focus on domestic issues.

"The economy is the central question in this election," Blair said, before embarking on a three-day tour of districts where Labour's grip is under threat.

The Liberal Democrats, the only major party to oppose the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, said the war and Blair's credibility were the most important issues for voters.

"History will certainly judge Tony Blair on Iraq, but first the British people will judge him on Thursday," said Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, adding that "Blair's judgment on the Iraq war was fatally flawed."

Labour retains a strong lead in opinion polls.

The Populus survey for The Times newspaper put Labour on 42 percent, 13 points ahead of the main opposition Conservatives on 29 percent and the Liberal Democrats on 21 percent. Populus interviewed 1,427 adults by telephone between April 27 and 30. There was a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

But Labour's lead is narrower among those who are certain to vote.

The latest MORI poll found that among definite voters, Labour had 36 percent support, compared with 33 percent for the Conservatives and 22 percent for the Liberal Democrats.

Labour fears that apathy, coupled with former supporters switching to the Liberal Democrats, could undermine their vote and hand seats to the main opposition Conservatives.

"If one in 10 Labour voters don't vote, the Tories win," said a Labour campaign poster unveiled by Blair on Monday.

"There's a real risk if people drift off, staying at home or voting Liberal Democrat, they can end up with a Conservative MP even though they don't truly want one," Blair added.

Under Britain's electoral system, the country is carved up into 646 districts, all of which elect a representative to the Commons. The party with a majority of lawmakers forms the government.

Analysts say the battle will be won or lost in around 100 districts that Labour currently holds with a slim lead. The marginal constituencies are being fiercely contested by both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Labour's Commons majority would disappear if it loses around 80 of its current seats.

 An independent inquiry opened on Sunday after police shot dead a man inside a car in London on Saturday night.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission, or IPCC, said it would investigate the circumstances of the shooting in Edgware, north London, which involved 25 officers as part of a pre-planned operation.

Shootings by police are rare in Britain, with police marksmen involved in just three fatalities in the past 12 months, the IPCC said.