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British Government Assailed as Economic News Worsens


LONDON — Prime Minister John Major's government was the target of withering criticism from friend and foe alike Thursday as Britons were confronted with further devastating economic news.

Former Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath declared Britain to be in a "very considerable" crisis.

Amid warnings that Britain is on the brink of a full-scale depression, figures were released Thursday that put unemployment at close to 3 million. The jobless rolls jumped by 32,200 last month, bringing the national level of those out of work to 10.1%, the highest in five years.

Furor raged too over rail fare increases for British Rail's notoriously bad service. Nick Harvey, a Liberal Democrat member of Parliament, denounced the increases as "The Great Train Robbery 2," a reference to a legendary heist in the 1960s.

And the argument over drastic cuts in the coal industry continued as miners called for a strike vote and accused the government of "wrecking" the industry.

Industrialists, church leaders, Conservative members of Parliament and opposition politicians deplored the government's "unbelievable" decision to close down more than half of the country's remaining coal mines, throwing 30,000 miners out of work and threatening the existence of whole communities.

It was disclosed Thursday that the decision was never discussed by the full Cabinet.

Former Conservative Defense Minister Tom King said there is "an urgent need" to explain the decision, and Conservative member of Parliament Winston Churchill, grandson of Britain's wartime leader, said that Major could face open rebellion in the Parliament when it reconvenes Monday.

"It is nothing short of criminal to deny these people the opportunity to keep their jobs," Churchill said.

His parliamentary colleague, Tory stalwart Elizabeth Peacock, summed up discontent among the party's rank and file when she called the coal decision "quite outrageous" and insisted that "the government has got to get its act together."

The Cabinet met for two hours Thursday before the prime minister left for Birmingham, where he will chair an emergency meeting of the European Community today. The EC summit, hastily called last month when turmoil in the world currency markets left the pound and the Italian lira severely battered, is increasingly being viewed as a disappointing exercise.

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