British govt should face ash cloud probe: Cameron

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Britain should hold an inquiry into the government's handling of the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland which closed airspace for five days, opposition leader David Cameron said Wednesday.

As campaigning for the knife-edge May 6 general election continued, Cameron, of the centre-right Conservatives, accused Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government of "muddle and confusion" over how it handled the situation.

Britain ended its airspace shutdown and all airports reopened late Tuesday although thousands of travellers are still facing delays and remain stuck abroad as airlines battle to reinstate normal schedules.

The ruling Labour party has denied any suggestion that it succumbed to airlines such as British Airways in deciding the sudden lifting of the ban.

Britain scrapped its restrictions after many other European countries which were also affected.

"It is clear that there has been some muddle and confusion in government about some of the information people have been given that doesn't seem to quite stack up," Cameron said.

"I think a rapid inquiry to get to the bottom of decisions that have been taken, the information that was received and given, and whether those decisions were right, would be a very good thing."

Earlier, Brown denied that the decision to lift the ban was based on pressure from airlines.

"We would never be forgiven if we had let planes fly and there was a real danger to people's lives," he said.

"The first thing people will want to be sure of is if you fly in an aeroplane, that you know it is going to be safe and that was the first responsibility of the government -- to make sure that safety was paramount".

The Liberal Democrats, who have surged to the top of some election opinion polls after a strong TV debate performance from leader Nick Clegg last week, warned against blaming ministers for the crisis.

"There are certainly questions to be asked... however I do think it's important to remember that the government has had to listen to professional advice on this," their transport spokesman Norman Baker told the BBC.

© 2010 AFP

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