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Blair tribute to helicopter dead

A U.S. Marine Corps CH-46 helicopter
A U.S. Marine Corps CH-46 helicopter

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BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has paid tribute to the eight British commandos who died when their U.S. helicopter crashed in northern Kuwait.

Speaking after a European Union summit in Brussels Friday, Blair said they were brave men who had given their lives for the safety of British people. The eight, he said, "had the courage to serve their country and the wider world."

He said that among those to send their condolences to Britain were French President Jacques Chirac -- despite the two leaders' sharp differences over the war. Chirac wrote Blair a personal note.

"Whatever the differences are, I know we can all come together in the spirit of sympathy at a time like this," said Blair.

The U.S. Marine CH-46 helicopter crashed early Friday nine miles from the Iraqi border, killing all 12 people aboard -- eight British military personnel and four American crew members. (Full story)

There was no indication of hostile fire, Pentagon officials said, saying it appeared the helicopter went down because of some other problem, possibly mechanical.

Despite the setback, Blair said British operations in Iraq appeared to be going well but that the war would not be won overnight.

"The course of action we are taking is the right one and we must see this mission through to the end."

On disagreements within the European Union over the decision to invade Iraq, Blair insisted there was support within the bloc for his government's pro-war stance.

And he said the text of an EU paper on the reconstruction of post-war Iraq, agreed on Thursday, was "a good deal more positive" than expected.

CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said EU leaders struggled to agree a joint communique on Thursday night, with the meeting choosing the common ground of the rebuilding of Iraq under a U.N. umbrella.

Oakley said the meeting offered no opinion on the rights and wrongs of the military offensive, with pro-war Britain and anti-war France still at loggerheads. (Full story)

Blair called on Friday for an "honest and open and frank debate" on Europe's future relationship with the U.S. once the war is over.

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