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George Bush and Tony Blair to broadcast to Iraqi people

LONDON - President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have recorded messages that will be broadcast to the Iraqi people on Thursday on the coalition's new television channel, Towards Freedom.

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According to Downing Street, the messages were recorded during the two leaders' meeting at Hillsborough Castle near Belfast on Tuesday in Northern Ireland, where they discussed the war in Iraq and the troubled peace process in Ulster.

The Towards Freedom TV channel will broadcast for as much five hours a day when up and running and is part of the allied campaign to win the 'hearts and minds' of the Iraqi people. The station will be broadcast from a specially equipped American "Commando Solo" C-130 Hercules aircraft circling in the skies over Iraq.

British officials promise that some of the programs will be entertaining and others will contain views critical of the U.S.-led coalition. For instance, the British plan a daily review of the London press, including the city's many Arabic-language papers.

The British segement is being produced by World Television and it will include a representative review of the international press. World Television has hired London-based Palestinian journalist Taysir Kamlah to put together the daily press review. He said he saw his job as being conciliatory, although in the future he said he probably will pick up on critical comments made by Arabic-language papers.

A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which is overseeing the project, said: "If it's going to be a review of the press it's got to be a genuine review of the press, not just a review of the good bits."

In his address, Blair makes the point of stressing that Saddam Hussein's regime is on the verge of collapse and that "the years of brutality, oppression and fear are coming to an end, that a new and better future beckons for the people of Iraq".

On the contenious issue of oil, the Prime Minister reassures the people of Iraq that: "The money from Iraqi oil will be yours."

"We want to give you the chance to rebuild your country, to rebuild your lives to give your families a chance of a better future. It is in the spirit of friendship and goodwill that we now offer our help," Blair says.

In his message, President Bush says that coalition forces are now inside Baghdad and that "the government of Iraq, and the future of your country, will soon belong to you."

News of the broadcast follows the jubilation at the scenes in Baghdad yesterday when the statue of Saddam Hussein in the city was torn down by Iraqis and US marines.

Some Iraqis were chanting the names of Bush and Blair and were seen holding American flags. Many were seen interviewed on television thanking the coalition allies for liberating Iraq.

However, both Washington and London have since warned that that the war was not over and there is some way to go. This morning, US troops were still fighting in parts of the capital and at least one US marine was killed in action.

Downing Street said that the Iraqi leadership must be brought to justice and the regime's weapons of mass destruction found.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister told the BBC that there was still a threat from elements of Saddam's regime.

The launch of the new free Iraqi channel will be the first chance for many Iraqis to get access to uncensored television news.

Iraqi state television went off the air for the last time two days ago following missile attacks on central Baghdad.

The channel will be produced jointly by the US and UK governments, with four of the five hours output being produced by the US with the rest down by the UK.

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