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Epidemic forces Britain to delay local elections

Blair still undecided on whether cattle should be vaccinated

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LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Tony Blair postponed local elections in Britain Monday because of the foot-and-mouth epidemic, a signal that national elections have also been put off until June.

Blair, who had been expected to call national elections on May 3, made no comment on the date for a national vote. But Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said Monday that he had wanted a May national election, and had lost the argument.

With more than 900 cases confirmed since the outbreak was detected on Feb. 20, Britain is struggling to control the epidemic. Blair came under strong pressure from farmers, Church of England bishops and the opposition Conservative party to put off a national election.

"Our task . . . now is to complete the putting in place of the short-, medium- and long-term strategies to insure the eventual eradication of the disease. Whilst this is going on, I believe it would not be appropriate to hold these elections on the 3rd of May," Blair said outside his office at No. 10 Downing St.

Conservative Party leader William Hague said Blair should not set a firm date.

The prime minister faced another important decision Monday on whether to go ahead with vaccination of dairy cattle to help contain foot-and-mouth disease in two hard-hit regions.

The European Union's veterinary committee last week gave Britain approval to vaccinate up to 180,000 cattle to help slow the spread of the disease in Cumbria county in northwestern England and Devon in the southwest.