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London mayoral front-runner hopes to unite city

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Sadiq Khan, the man widely expected to become the first Muslim mayor of London, vowed Wednesday to work to unite the city's communities if he is elected.

[LONDON] Sadiq Khan, the man widely expected to become the first Muslim mayor of London, vowed Wednesday to work to unite the city's communities if he is elected.

The opposition Labour candidate told AFP during a street market walkabout on the eve of Thursday's vote that the rival Conservatives were waging an "increasingly desperate campaign" against him.

The race for the British capital's top job has been highly divisive, with Mr Khan's Conservative rival Zac Goldsmith trying to establish links between the Labour lawmaker and Islamic extremists.

"Hopefully if I win, I'll be the mayor that unites our city again, that brings communities together," the 45-year-old Mr Khan said on the final day of campaigning.

"I'm a Londoner, I'm British, I'm of Islamic faith, of course I am a proud Muslim. I'm of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage."

"But the great thing about this city is you can be a Londoner of any faith or none and we don't simply tolerate each other: we respect, we embrace and we celebrate each other."

Mr Khan is leading MR Goldsmith by 12 to 14 points in the final opinion polls, and if he wins on Thursday he will be the first Muslim mayor of an EU capital.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron went on the offensive against Mr Khan again in parliament on Wednesday.

He said he had shown a "pattern of behaviour" in appearing alongside people like Sajeel Shahid, "the man who trained the ringleader of the 7/7 attacks (in London) and accused the US of bringing the 9/11 attacks on themselves" and "an extremist who called for Jews to be drowned in the ocean".

He said Mr Khan and other Labour candidates "share platform after platform after platform with extremists and anti-Semites".

In response to the attacks against him, Mr Khan said: "I am disappointed that the Conservatives and Zac Goldsmith have decided to have a negative, divisive and increasingly desperate campaign."

During his walkabout in the south London market, Mr Khan also pledged to help address the most pressing issue at stake for many Londoners - the sky-high cost of housing.

"I've gone from a council estate to being a lawyer, to running a succesful business to being a minister in the cabinet and I'm running for mayor. But how many other Londoners have had the chances I've had?"

"The reason why I'm running to be mayor is there are too many Londoners who don't get the helping hand that I received."

In the market, cheap clothes and pairs of shoes were selling for £5 (S$9.84), while new-build flats nearby were being advertised for upwards of £600,000.

"My London plan will ensure half the new homes are genuinely affordable," Mr Khan said.

"We can't have this situation where homes are being built that Londoners can't afford, or homes built that are sold off-plan overseas to investors."

AFP