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I’M THE ONE `IN STEP,’ THATCHER SAYS

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British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said Tuesday she is the only Commonwealth leader "in step with the South African people" and defended her rejection of intensified sanctions aimed at ending apartheid.

While colleagues accused Thatcher of disloyalty to the 49-member organization of former British colonies, the unrepentant prime minister said she was not worried about isolation from the other heads of state at Tuesday's conclusion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting."If it's one against 48, I'm sorry for the 48," Thatcher said.

Thatcher enraged the gathering by issuing a dissenting statement Sunday night only minutes after the Commonwealth issued its declaration on South Africa.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe described the move as "despicable and unacceptable," and prime ministers Brian Mulroney of Canada and Bob Hawke of Australia also issued strong statements.

Unrattled, Thatcher said she issued the statement to explain why Britain objects to endorsing intensified economic sanctions against Pretoria, a beefed up arms embargo, establishment of an independent agency to report on South Africa's financial links and extension for two years of the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers' South Africa Committee.

"I thought it right (that) Britain's views should be set out clearly so it would be on the record for all time," Thatcher said.

Thatcher accused her critics of denying her the right to speak.

"They regard freedom of speech as something for themselves but not us," she said.

Thatcher reiterated her stand that sanctions harm poor blacks the most.

"I'm in step with the people of South Africa," Thatcher said. "The rest of the Commonwealth takes a different view."

She said Britain is determined to see South Africa prosper.

"Apartheid is wrong, cannot survive and must go," Thatcher said. "When we do get a government without any apartheid in it that government will inherit a strong economy. Out of 49 Commonwealth members, they will have one to thank for that."