"An elected mayor should only be removed by the law or by an election," said Nicky Gavron, the deputy mayorn who will take over if Livingstone is forced to stand down. "Millions of Londoners elect the mayor and three unelected officials have removed him," said Ms Gavron, the daughter of a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany.
The Adjudication Panel for England – a government-appointed panel which hears complaints against local authority members – ruled on Friday, February 24, that Livingstone should be suspended for four weeks starting March 1. The three-man panel said Livingstone's remarks to Oliver Finegold, a reporter for the London Evening Standard, on February 8 last year had been "unnecessarily insensitive and offensive."
David Laverick, the panel's chair, said they did not think it appropriate to disqualify the mayor from office, but were concerned he had failed to appreciate his conduct was unacceptable and damaging to his office. Livingstone, 60, immediately criticized the panel's ruling as one that "strikes at the heart of democracy." He can appeal but is liable for costs estimated at up to 80,000 pounds (117,000 euros, 139,000 dollars).
The suspension also drew fire from unions and MPs. "It is outrageous that an unelected body of three men has deprived seven million Londoners of their elected mayor for four weeks," said Tony Woodley, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union. "Whilst many had wanted Ken Livingstone to apologize, suspension for such a long period seems to me to be totally disproportionate and serves no other purpose than to disrupt the work of the [Greater London] authority at a time when London needs it most.
"We will support London's mayor in whatever measures he may take to challenge this scandal." Andrew Dismore, chair of London's Labour MPs, seemed to agree. "It is for the people of London to decide who should or should not be the mayor of London, not an unelected panel of bureaucrats."
Jenny Jones, a Green party London assembly member, said she was "outraged that this system allows three undemocratically appointed individuals to suspend a man who was elected by the vote of millions of Londoners". Livingstone won election to the newly created post of mayor in 2000 after leaving Blair's Labour Party and defeating the Labour's candidate.
He later returned to the party, but has frequently clashed with Blair, leading marches against the US-led invasion of Iraq.
Blow to Democracy
The sizable Muslim minority blasted the suspension as a blow to democracy. "This decision constitutes a clear over reaction and an affront to our democratic traditions," said Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the secretary general of the umbrella Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).
"He [ Livingstone] is a committed anti-racist campaigner of longstanding. We are proud to stand by him and hope to see this ridiculous verdict overturned shortly." The MCB reiterated "fullest support for Mayor Livingstone in his efforts to promote security, prosperity and cohesion between London's diverse ethnic and religious communities."
The Muslim Association of Britain also echoed a similar position, saying it was "appalled" by the decision to suspend Livingstone. "Londoners must decry this decision against Mr Livingstone whose achievements and service of the city of London are appreciated and recognized by everyone, friend or foe," the group said on its Web site.
It asserted that under his leadership, "unprecedented steps were made towards establishing London as a model city of achievement, multiculturalism and diversity."
Livingstone was widely praised last year for guiding London's successful bid for the 2012 Olympics and for his handling of suicide bomb attacks on the city's transport network in which 52 commuters died in addition to four bombers.
He is further known for being anti-racist campaigner and a staunch defender of minority rights in Britain. Earlier in February, he led several thousands of Muslim demonstrators in a central London rally to protest Danish cartoons that mocked Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
He also rallied behind Muslim women's right to wear hijab, criticizing France for banning the Muslim dress code and religious symbols in state schools in 2004.
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