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Brown wins US praise, starts leadership bid

world Updated: May 11, 2007 13:39 IST

Gordon Brown, almost certain to become Britain's prime minister next month, got an early boost on Friday when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice promised continued strong transatlantic ties.

Brown, waiting increasingly fretfully in the wings for the top job, finally got the green light on Thursday, when Tony Blair said he would step down on June 27 after 10 years in power, triggering a leadership contest.

"Britain and America will always be friends, and I know that we will work very, very well with Gordon Brown when he becomes prime minister," Rice told media.

"The bonds with Prime Minister Blair have been forged through some of the most difficult times -- through the time of 9/11, through the time of the attacks on London, through Afghanistan and Iraq and Northern Ireland," she added.

Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Brown kicked off his campaign for the Labour Party leadership by taking the fight to an opposition Conservative-held constituency.

Brown's major challenge is to revitalise support for Labour which, after a decade in power, is trailing badly in the polls behind a rejuvenated Conservative Party under its young leader David Cameron.

Brown, a 56-year-old Scot, opened his bid in Enfield -- a symbolic gesture aimed at recapturing the excitement of the 1997 landslide election victory that swept Labour into power.

Back then Enfield, in the Conservative heartland, was held by Defence Secretary Michael Portillo, who became one of the most high-profile casualties of the election as Labour won over huge swathes of middle-class voters.

Labour has since lost the seat and Brown's presence there signified his desire and need to regain the support of the English middle class if he is to win the next general election, expected in 2009.

Brown is the only contender at present. No other candidate has yet won the backing of 45 Labour parliamentarians needed to stand for the party leadership.