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B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell was arrested and jailed on a charge of drunk driving early yesterday morning on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

Maui police Sergeant Ken Prather said Mr. Campbell was picked up at 1.23 a.m. and held in a cell until he secured his release by posting $257 (U.S.) bail later in the day.

Mr. Campbell was in police custody for seven hours.

"Mr. Campbell was very polite while he was here," Sgt. Prather said. "He was a nice gentlemen."

A tentative court date was set for March 25. Mr. Campbell is to appear on a charge of operating a vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant (liquor).

In a brief statement released by his Victoria office late yesterday, Mr. Campbell admitted that he had made "a serious mistake."

"I apologize to everyone, including my family, my colleagues and the people of British Columbia."

He said that he does not intend to contest the drunk-driving charge, which carries mandatory penalties of a 14-hour alcohol-abuse program and a 30- to 90-day driver's licence suspension. He could be sentenced to 72 hours community-service work and two to five days in jail or fined between $150 and $1,000.

Mr. Campbell said he was returning from dinner with friends when Maui police officers pulled him over.

News of Mr. Campbell's arrest and drunk-driving charge stunned friends and foes alike, and led to speculation the Premier might have to resign, an all too-familiar occurrence in this politically charged province.

British Columbia has not had a premier complete a full term in office since former Social Credit leader Bill Bennett, who presided over the province from 1975 to 1987.

In Victoria, Mr. Campbell's aides scrambled to release a statement, but they were handicapped by the bombshell nature of the news.

Mr. Campbell, whose 55th birthday is tomorrow, regularly takes a winter vacation in Hawaii around Christmas.

B.C. New Democratic Party Leader Joy MacPhail called news of the charge "deeply troubling."

"Like all British Columbians, I expect the Premier will want to take the first opportunity to explain the circumstances of his arrest."

Until she hears from Mr. Campbell, Ms. MacPhail said, she would refrain from further comment.

Former provincial Liberal leader Gordon Wilson, who lost the leadership to Mr. Campbell in a bitter fight in the mid-1990s, said the Premier has "some pretty serious accounting" to do.

"Obviously, if he had a few drinks, you would think he would show better judgment than to get behind the wheel of a car," said Mr. Wilson, who left the Liberals for the NDP.

"While he can probably continue as Premier, whether he will command the same kind of respect is open to question."

Sgt. Prather, who said police did not know they had picked up and charged the Premier of B.C., released few details of the arrest.

The legal alcohol limit for drivers in Hawaii is .08 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. Sgt. Prather would not say whether Mr. Campbell had taken a breath test, or reveal his blood-alcohol level at the time of his arrest.

"It's basically a simple arrest for us. We don't want publicity, good or bad, for anybody."

A news release issued by police Captain Lawrence Hudson of the Lahaina district division of the Maui Police Department said Mr. Campbell was observed by a patrol officer at the intersection of Honoapiilani Highway and Napilihau Street in the small resort of Napili.

"Following a traffic stop, Campbell showed signs of intoxication," the release said. "Campbell was subsequently arrested and transported to the Wailuku Police Station without incident."

It added that operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant is a misdemeanour in Hawaii.

Police released a series of four mug shots of the B.C. Premier. In two of the pictures, he is smiling.

One news report said Mr. Campbell had been staying in the posh Napili Kai Beach Resort. A reporter trying to be put through to Mr. Campbell's room was told the phone line was blocked. Mr. Campbell's statement said he would speak to the media tomorrow afternoon.

Political scientist Norman Ruff said the Premier has been guilty of "incredibly foolish, stupid behaviour" which will cast a dark cloud over his term of office.

"Thirty years ago, this might have been shrugged off. But today, this is regarded as a very serious offence. Anyone who takes more than two drinks should know very well what the consequences might be . . ." said Prof. Ruff of the University of Victoria.