Pressure on Tories, Clegg

LONDON - Britain's opposition parties voiced hope yesterday they could soon strike a deal on forming a new government to break a four-day deadlock after last week's general election produced no clear winner.

The centre-right Conservatives led by David Cameron and Nick Clegg's centrist Liberal Democrats were locked in talks on a possible surprise alliance that would allow a new government led by Cameron to take power.

But they were facing growing pressure from Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour, which is still running the country despite dropping to second in the polls, either to announce a deal or admit they have failed.

William Hague, one of the Conservatives' four negotiators, told reporters as he walked into the negotiations that the talks were "going well" and he was "optimistic of making further progress soon".

Clegg added that politicians were "working flat out, around the clock" in a bid to secure a quick and lasting deal.

"Bear with us a little bit longer and I hope we will be able to provide you with a full announcement as soon as is possible," he said.

Their comments came as Alistair Darling, the finance minister, urged the Conservatives and Lib Dems to strike an accord within hours to reassure financial markets and the country as a whole.

"I don't think it will do any good to let this process drag on," he told BBC radio. "I hope by the end of today they can decide whether they can do a deal or not."

Brown - who is still prime minister due to a constitutional quirk - is expected to have to resign within days.

Thursday's election delivered a hung parliament - where no one party has overall control - for the first time since 1974. - Sapa-AFP