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UK deputy leader opposed to visitor bond plan

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JILL LAWLESS | September 15, 2013 08:01 AM EST | AP

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LONDON — Britain's deputy prime minister said Sunday he will try to block any attempt to make foreign visitors routinely pay a security deposit to come to the U.K., an idea that has spurred outrage in countries such as India and Nigeria.

The government plans to begin a pilot project in November involving "high-risk" countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Some visitors will have to pay a 3,000 pound ($4,800) deposit, which will be refunded upon departure but forfeited if travelers overstay their visas.

Officials and businesspeople in the affected countries have condemned the proposal, and the British government has not said how many visa applicants will have to pay the bond.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said his Liberal Democrat party and its Conservative coalition partners had "differences of emphasis" on the plan, and details were still being discussed in government.

"I am absolutely not interested in a bond which becomes an indiscriminate way of clobbering people who want to come to this country," Clegg told the BBC. He said the bonds "are certainly not going to go ahead" on that basis.

"Of course in a coalition I can stop things," he added.

Immigration is a sensitive political issue in Britain, especially with the unemployment and austerity measures brought on by the economic crisis. Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to cut net immigration from 252,000 a year in 2010 to below 100,000 a year by 2015.

While that plays well with the Conservatives' right-of-center supporters, it has been trouble for the centrist, liberal Lib Dems, who are holding their annual conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

The party is sagging in opinion polls 18 months ahead of a national election, and many members have expressed unease about the compromises involved in coalition government. Earlier this month one of the best-known Lib Dem lawmakers, Sarah Teather, said she was quitting because she felt the party no longer fought for social justice and liberal values.

Clegg defended his party's participation in the coalition, saying it had made the government fairer and more liberal.