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In the shadow of suicide bombing, UK resumes election campaign

Reuters , Friday 26 May 2017
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain's opposition Labour party, observes a minute's silence for the victims of the attack on the Manchester Arena, before making a speech as his party restarts its election campaign in London, May 26, 2017. (Photo: Reuters)
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Campaigning for Britain's national election resumed in earnest on Friday with the country on high alert for further attacks after a suicide bombing killed 22 people in Manchester.

After the deadliest attack in Britain since July 2005, a new poll indicated that Labour had closed to five points behind Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative party, with police budgets and foreign policy emerging as key campaign issues.

Armed police backed up by the army are patrolling cities and trains, and hospitals have been warned to be ready. Home Secretary (interior minister) Amber Rudd said the threat level remained at its highest level, "critical", meaning an attack is expected imminently.

"JTAC (the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre) have assessed that the level of threat should remain at critical while the operation continues," Rudd said. "The public should be in no doubt that there is a large threat."

However, Security Minister Ben Wallace said there was no evidence of a specific threat over the holiday weekend, when a number of major events take place including Saturday's soccer FA Cup final in London, where extra armed officers will be on duty.

In Manchester, police hunting for a suspected Islamist network behind Salman Abedi, the 22-year-old British-born man with Libyan parents who blew himself up after a concert by U.S. singer Ariana Grande, were questioning eight men aged between 18 and 38. Premises across the city and northwest England were raided.

"The police are confident that they are in a position to have good coverage of what's happened and of rolling it (the network) up," Wallace told BBC radio.

"Hearts are Broken"

On his first official trip to Britain as U.S. secretary of state, Rex Tillerson said "all across America, hearts are broken" by the Manchester attack.

British police briefly suspended intelligence sharing with the United States on Thursday after confidential details of their investigation repeatedly appeared in American media, but Tillerson said the allies' close security relationship would survive.

"We take full responsibility for that and we obviously regret that that happened," Tillerson said.

For the first time since the attack, politicians resumed campaigning on a national scale for the June 8 vote as an opinion poll found the Conservatives' lead, once as much as 23 percentage points, had shrunk to just five.

May called the snap election to strengthen her hand in negotiations on Britain's exit from the European Union, but her campaign hit trouble when she pledged to make elderly people pay more for their social care, and she was forced on Monday to backtrack on a policy dubbed the "dementia tax" by opponents.

May's Conservatives saw their support fall to 43 percent while backing for Labour rose to 38 percent in the YouGov poll, causing sterling to dive by more than a cent against the dollar.

In a speech in London, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Britain's involvement in foreign wars had increased the threat of terrorism.

"Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, pointed out the connections between wars that we've been involved in or supported ... in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home," he said. "We must be brave enough to admit the ‘war on terror’ is not working."

Opponents accused Corbyn of politicizing the Manchester attack.

"To suggest that there is any link, that there is any justification, for the events that took place on Monday night in Manchester with UK foreign policy is outrageous," said Rudd.

Police Cuts

She said the security services had foiled 18 plots since 2013. However, with almost 20,000 fewer police than when the Conservatives came to power in 2010, concern about police cuts is likely to become a major issue in campaigning.

"We're now 20,000 police officers down, and we get atrocities like this. Does the government not expect this?" one voter, who was not named, asked Rudd on the BBC's Question Time program on Thursday night.

Corbyn promised to reverse the police cuts, many of them implemented by May in her former role as interior minister, and said Britain could not be "protected on the cheap".

Rudd said counter-terrorism was adequately resourced, and denied that the cuts had made it harder to prevent Monday's attack.

May herself was attending her first G7 meeting since becoming prime minister last year and planned to urge the world's major industrialized nations to unite to force technology companies to tackle websites or social media that are used to promote or facilitate radical ideologies.

"The PM will say that the threat we face is evolving, rather than disappearing, as Daesh (Islamic State) loses ground in Iraq and Syria. The fight is moving from the battlefield to the internet," a government source said.

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