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Woolas denies breaching poll rules

Ex-Labour immigration minister Phil Woolas has told a court it would have been "political suicide" to break electoral law to help secure his seat.

He denied that he and his campaign team ever thought of breaching the rules in a bid to retain Oldham East and Saddleworth in this year's general election.

Appearing before a specially convened election court, Mr Woolas is accused of stirring up tensions in a racially sensitive area to change the vote in his favour.

He eventually won the seat by 103 votes from his Liberal Democrat opponent Elwyn Watkins, who is hoping to overturn the result and force a re-run.

Mr Watkins claims Mr Woolas made a "shocking" decision to "make the white folk angry" by depicting an alleged campaign by extremist Muslims to overthrow Mr Woolas and present the Lib Dem candidate as in league with them.

The MP said the militant threat in the run-up to the election was genuine and he stood up against it with the strong support of mainstream Muslims.

He said he was approached by a large number of Asians in the community, supporters and non-supporters, who had reported trouble arising from leaflet drops outside a mosque by extremists.

"There was a fear of violence, there were reports of scuffles, there was an attack on a Labour candidate," he said. "My strategy was to mobilise mainstream Muslims and the white community against the extremists and to do that I had to highlight it to the white community."

His counsel Gavin Millar QC asked whether an email from his election agent which questioned whether they "could get away" with focusing on Muslim extremists in one of his election leaflets was a legal reference.

Mr Woolas replied: "The idea that I set out to break the law never came into our minds. It would be political suicide, as well as wrong."

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