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British PM joins in seven-party pre-election TV debate

Updated: 2015-04-03 09:21

LONDON - British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday took part in a major televised debate with leaders of six other political parties ahead of the general election in May.

It represented the only time for Cameron, leader of the Conservatives, and Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labor party, to appear in the same live TV debate before the polling day on May 7.

The two-hour debate, hosted by British TV network ITV, also invited the leaders of the Liberal Democrats, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the Green Party, Wales' Plaid Cymru party and the Scottish National Party (SNP).

The party chiefs clashed with each other over the economy, the National Health Service (NHS), immigration and the future of Britain, four major areas of public concern covered in the debate.

"The choice of this election is sticking with a plan that is working or chaos of the alternative. Let's not go back to square one. Britain can do so much better than that," Cameron said in his opening speech.

Miliband, on his part, accused the coalition government led by Cameron by saying that "the NHS is going backwards."

He also pledged to cut the tuition fees from 9,000 pounds (about $13,320) to 6,000 pounds a year.

The party leaders differed sharply in the attitudes towards immigration, with the Eurosceptic UKIP leader Nigel Farage at the forefront of anti-EU campaign.

"What can we do to control immigration while we are in the EU? Nothing. Nothing. We have an open door to 10 former Communist countries. I don't blame immigrants for coming here but we need to take back control of our borders," Farage said in the debate.

Noting that "changes are needed" in Britain's immigration system, Cameron vowed to stop migrants from "claiming benefits before contributing to the economy."

Miliband said he would try to prevent immigrants from undercutting wages in Britain, while the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said "most immigrants work and they are a net contributor to the economy."

Opposing Britain's exit from the EU, leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg told the audience: "Not every problem can be solved with an EU referendum."

The Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said the her party would be campaigning strongly for Britain to stay in the EU.

Cameron has pledged to hold an "in or out" referendum on whether Britain should withdraw from the European Union by 2017, if his Conservative Party wins the 2015 general election.

Britain is to hold its next general election on May 7. A party needs to win at least 326 of all 650 seats in the House of Commons, the parliament's lower house, to form a majority government.

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