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THATCHER OPENS PARTY MEETING AMID FEARS OF A CURRENCY CRISIS

SHARE THATCHER OPENS PARTY MEETING AMID FEARS OF A CURRENCY CRISIS

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party opened its annual four-day conference Tuesday amid fears of a currency crisis and with its popularity at an eight-year low.

Thatcher told party members at a preconference dinner in the northwest seaside resort of Blackpool late Monday, "The economy is stronger than ever. Living standards are higher than ever."But newspaper headlines Tuesday spoke of crisis.

The London Times wrote, "Tories gather in Blackpool as shares and sterling slump," referring to the British currency.

The Independent read, "Fears of crisis as pound plunges. Sterling collapse triggers sharp fall in share prices."

The Financial Times, Britain's leading business daily, said, "Substantial selling on fears that interest rates will not be raised further."

The pound was down early Tuesday by 1 cent, and 4 cents lower than it was before Lawson raised the British equivalent of the prime rate by 1 point to 15 percent on Thursday.

"The interest rate rise was necessary and this government always does what is necessary and always has," said Thatcher, who attended Monday night's dinner with Lawson.

Lawson ordered the increase following interest rate increases in West Germany and five other European countries. It was Britain's 11th rise since the rate stood at 7.5 percent in June 1988.