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BP PLC Chairman Peter Sutherland: "BP makes good progress on safety issues "

то BP PLC Chairman Peter Sutherland reassured shareholders that the company is making "good progress" on safety issues.

BP's safety woes were a major topic at its annual general meeting, with one shareholder group calling on the board to include safety measures in its three-year incentive plans for directors.

Sutherland said it was "vital that we reinforce those values" of safety recommended by an independent report that took the company to task for failing to provide, among other things, effective leadership needed to ensure worker safety.

The report by a panel led by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, released in January, recommended that the BP board appoint a separate expert to advise it on the way in which the company implements the panel's findings.

"The Baker panel clearly saw that the company had potential to become an industry leader around the issues of process safety, and to aid the company and the board in that task we accepted the recommendation of expert help," Sutherland said. He added that the company expected to make an announcement on the appointment in May.

Outgoing Chief Executive John Browne said significant changes had already been made and the company planned to do more.

Browne, who is stepping down more than a year ahead of schedule in July, reiterated that the Texas City, Texas, refinery explosion happened on his watch, calling it "the saddest and darkest day in my working life at BP."

Shareholders voted 83 percent in favor of a compensation package for Browne, despite calls from some investors to reject the deal amid concerns over his inclusion in the company's latest three-year incentive plan for directors, which runs until the end of 2009.

Sutherland defended Browne's inclusion.

"Lord Browne's retirement was brought forward by mutual agreement and he should not be penalized for the decision, given the years he has spent building up the company," he said.

Browne will leave BP with a 5.3 million pound (US$10.5 million; EUR7.8 million) payoff in July and a 21.7 million pound (US$42.9 million; EUR31.9 million) pension pot, as well as millions of pounds in shares due under the incentive plan.

A shareholder group, the Cooperative Insurance Society, called on BP to commit to "non-financial" targets, including safety, in the three-year incentive plan.

BP shares fell 0.2 percent to 558.5 pence (EUR8.22; US$11.04) on the London Stock Exchange.

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