Afghanistan war critic wins UK Parliament seat

Last Updated: Friday, March 30, 2012 - 15:18

London: An outspoken critic of the war in Afghanistan claimed on Friday that public anger over the conflict propelled him to a surprise victory in a special election for a seat in Britain`s House of Commons.

George Galloway, a leftist political maverick, won the Bradford West seat in northern England — a district that includes a large Muslim community — with a majority of more than 10,000 votes, as support for the country`s mainstream lawmakers crumbled.

The election was triggered by the resignation of main opposition Labour Party legislator Marsha Singh due to ill health, but Singh`s party had been expected to comfortably retain the seat it had held for more than 30 years.

Galloway, who was voted out of Parliament in Britain`s 2010 national election, dubbed his victory the "Bradford spring" — likening it to pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East — and claimed it was "the most sensational result in British by-election history bar none."

He insisted that resentment at mainstream political parties over the conflict in Afghanistan, which has so far seen 407 British military personnel killed since 2001, had been decisive.

"They have to stop supporting illegal, bloody, costly foreign wars," Galloway said. "The public don`t believe that they have atoned for their role in the invasion and occupation of other people`s countries and the drowning of those countries in blood."

Labour`s candidate Imran Hussain polled second behind Galloway — losing around 20 percent of the party`s votes compared to 2010 — while both members of Britain`s coalition government, the Conservative Party and the smaller Liberal Democrats, also saw their support fall.

Galloway, who was expelled from the country`s Labour Party in 2003 for urging British soldiers not to fight in Iraq, represents the anti-war Respect party, and he will be the organisation`s only House of Commons legislator.

The lawmaker is known in Britain for his strident opposition to the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq — but also for an appearance in 2006 on the reality television series "Big Brother," when he dressed in a red leotard and lapped imaginary milk as he pretended to be a cat.

"I think his celebrity was a very significant factor," Labour lawmaker Toby Perkins said, explaining his party`s defeat. "Bradford is an important city for the party and it has come as a big shock the way that things have changed over the past few weeks."

In 2010, Galloway was denied entry to Canada on national security grounds over his links to Palestinian group Hamas, which Ottawa considers a terrorist organisation. The lawmaker was previously awarded an honorary Palestinian passport by Gaza`s Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, after joining aid convoys to the Gaza Strip.

Galloway also has courted controversy over his links to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and was suspended from the House of Commons for 18 days in 2007 after he was accused of concealing his financial dealings with Hussein`s government. An investigation found that a charity Galloway set up had been partly funded by the Iraqi dictator.

Two years earlier, Galloway had angrily denounced US Senators while testifying before a Washington committee that accused his political organisation of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in UN oil-for-food allocations from Saddam.

During a notorious visit to Iraq in 1994, Galloway was filmed telling Hussein, "Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability."

Bureau Report



First Published: Friday, March 30, 2012 - 15:18

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