Britain's Blair faces revolt, as 7 government aides quit in demanding he step down

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was locked in a fight to keep control over when he leaves office, with eight junior members of his government resigning Wednesday to protest his refusal to step down.

Blair warned the rebels that infighting would jeopardize the governing Labour Party's effort to hold onto power, while top officials sent strong signals that Blair intended to leave office within a year, reports AP.

Pressure for the prime minister to announce a departure date has intensified in recent weeks, fueled by widespread anger at Blair's handling of last month's fighting between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah militants.

Blair's Downing Street office on Wednesday could not immediately confirm reports that the prime minister intended to make a public statement on his future on Thursday.

The prime minister intended to use a long planned visit to a London school with Education Secretary Alan Johnson to make set out his intentions, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Blair's office also said Wednesday he planned to visit the Middle East soon in a bid to restart peace talks. But the announcement did little to placate government rebels and others demanding Blair be specific about when he will hand over power.

Legislators anxious about a slide in popularity one recent poll showed Labour 9 points behind the opposition Conservatives fear the uncertainty about his tenure is damaging their electoral hopes.

The eight junior officials said they had quit rather than remove their names from a letter demanding that the prime minister step aside. They were among 15 Labour lawmakers who signed the letter, writing that while they supported the centrist direction Blair had taken the party, he was no longer the right man to lead it.

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