(dpa) - Prime Minister Gordon Brown Friday stepped into a sensitive row over alleged verbal abuse being hurled at British servicemen in uniform by opponents of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Brown condemned reports that airmen- and women from a Royal Air Force (RAF) base at Wittering, near Cambridge in south-east Britain, had been ordered not to wear their uniforms in public after being verbally abused in the street.
"All our armed forces should be able to, and encouraged to, wear their uniform in public and have the respect and gratitude of the British people for the huge commitment to public service they show," Brown said in London.
"I encourage the local police to back up our armed forces so that not only can our armed forces wear their uniforms in public, but they should have the gratitude of the British public for the work they do," he said.
The Prime Minister spoke after senior officers at RAF Wittering advised airmen and women to wear civilian dress when they visited the nearby city of Peterborough in case they attracted insults.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has launched an investigation into the reports, but stressed that only a "tiny minority" was behind the reported abuse.
It is the first time that any such discriminatory incident has been made public since the involvement of British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Defence Secretary Des Browne said it was a "great shame that some individuals in this community don't respect our armed forces."
The mayor of Peterborough, Marion Todd, was among those Friday calling for the uniform ban to be rescinded. The decision by the station commander at Wittering marked a "sad day" for Peterborough, she said.
Local police said they did not know of any abuse reported in the city, which has the nearest railway link to the base.