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Blair Critics Muted

British Prime Minister Tony Blair received a standing ovation and broad support Wednesday from his Labor Party for his election victory as critics demanding his resignation were silenced, party members said.

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Things are looking good for Tony

In his first test of leadership since Thursday's poll, a smiling Blair urged Labor lawmakers in parliament to build on what he called a solid victory, participants said as they emerged from the closed-door meeting.

A small number of dissidents want Blair to go because they believe it was his decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 that caused the party to see the large parliamentary majorities it won in 1997 and 2001 slashed by more than half.

However, Blair walked into a "triumphal" reception as party members clapped, cheered and stamped their feet in a 20-second ovation, participants said later.

Anyone who dared criticize Blair was "shouted down" by the majority who were supportive, Labor MP Ken Purchase said.

"On the back of a third Labor election victory, it is no surprise people feel pretty protective towards the guy," Purchase said. "It is pretty clear he has still got the support of the majority of" his Labor party in parliament.

"Put up or shut up"

Speaking outside the meeting, fellow lawmaker Bob Laxton told reporters his message to the rebels was "put up, shut up" or go away.

One of Blair's closest allies, Defense Secretary John Reid called it "a great meeting."

"The silent majority are silent no longer," he said. "They made their view known and you saw it in a standing ovation just now. We have waited a while for the silent majority to speak but they have now spoken."

Another ally of the prime minister, who has suffered a hostile start to his record third term in office, had urged Blair earlier to woo critics by making symbolic concessions on Iraq.

Stephen Byers, a Labor MP and former cabinet minister, said that Blair should show he had "listened and learned" from Iraq by giving parliament more power over sending troops to fight in future potential conflicts.

Lame duck leader?

Last year Blair, 52, pledged that if he was re-elected he would serve a final, full term as leader before stepping down.

Gordon Brown

Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown

But some opponents see him as a lame duck leader who has lost the trust of the public due largely to the Iraq invasion and its aftermath. They yearn for a new boss, widely expected to be the finance minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown.

Byers, writing in the Times before the meeting, reminded rebel Labor MPs of the trouble that blighted the main opposition Conservative Party after it ousted then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1991 during her own third consecutive term in office.

The party went on to suffer a hat trick of election defeats under a succession of different leaders, with the latest, Michael Howard, announcing last week that he will retire by the end of the year once a replacement is found.

The House of Commons was also Wednesday to elect its speaker, an MP chosen to be a non-partisan chairman for debates, while members of parliament were to start being sworn into office.

Blair's leadership was also challenged when European Union deputies representing Labor joined in a preliminary vote Wednesday in Strasbourg to scrap Britain's opt-out from EU rules limiting working hours.

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