Prescott defends his tropical trip

JOHN PRESCOTT, the Deputy Prime Minister, acknowledged last night that he has had to take some flak from the media over a 10-day trip to India and the Maldives. But a tanned Mr Prescott, showing no signs of jet-lag, insisted he had been trying to get a serious message across.

His mission to highlight the threat to such species as the tiger and to coral reefs was portrayed as more of a holiday by some papers. He was pictured yesterday diving in the tropical waters of the Maldives.

Mr Prescott, now back in the Commons, said: "The things I wanted to get across were about the environment ... if you saw those TV pictures of the (dead) coral, the graveyard, you could see what was happening." Mr Prescott, who visited tiger reserves, and took a party of businessmen with him,also hopes to have helped thaw the relationship between the UK and India in the wake of last year's nuclear-test row. He met the Indian Prime Minister and handed over a letter from Tony Blair which reflected Britain's interest in "greater all-round co-operation". Mr Prescott went on: "I got the very distinct feeling ... the people want to sustain that good relationship with Britain and I was able to use the issue of the environment and trade between us to develop some new concepts."

As one of the chief brokers in negotiating the climate- change deal at Kyoto 18 months ago, which set a legally binding reduction target in greenhouse gases for the world, the Deputy Prime Minister is battling to ensure Third World countries can stay on board.

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