Rice Visit To Blackburn Cancelled

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Fears of massive anti-war protests forced the cancellation of yesterday’s planned visit to Blackburn by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Rice had planned to visit Blackburn, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw’s constituency, to repay his visit to her home town in Alabama in 2005.

However, she was due to be met by mass anti-war protests, including a protest by thousands of Muslims at a mosque that she was due to visit.

Muslims opposed to her trip had planned to protest in the building from dawn, well ahead of her arrival, spokesman Ibrahim Master said.

He added: ‘Safety concerns meant the visit to the mosque on Millham Street had to be cancelled.’

Speaking after a meeting with the local Stop the War Coalition, Master, a member of the mosque’s governing committee, said: ‘The visit wasn’t cancelled because we don’t like Condoleezza Rice.

‘What people had said was that they would invade the mosque during dawn prayers.’

The Stop the War Coalition said the invitation had been withdrawn after huge pressure from the Muslim community.

Blackburn Stop the War spokesman Alex Martindale said an ‘historic decision’ had been made.

He added: ‘Blackburn with Darwen Stop the War salutes the committee of the mosque and extends our thanks to the community and scholars involved for their united efforts in arriving at this decision.’

Stop the War is planning rallies in Blackburn tomorrow morning and in Liverpool tonight before a gala concert which Rice is due to attend.

Rice has been invited to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic orchestra concert to celebrate the city’s status as European Capital of Culture 2008.

This invitation has already caused controversy with poet Roger McGough pulling out of plans to compere the event.

A UK Foreign Office spokeswoman said yesterday: ‘It’s a pity that we will not be visiting a mosque in Blackburn.’

She claimed: ‘Everything we are doing on this visit is being done with respect to the communities involved, taking their views into consideration.’

Rice was due to arrive at Liverpool Airport yesterday evening.

• Second news story

UN 30-DAY ULTIMATUM

The UN Security Council has given Iran 30 days to abandon its uranium enrichment activities without mentioning steps it might take if Tehran fails to comply.

The meeting of the 15-nation council took place on Wednesday shortly after the five permanent council members, the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France, agreed on a statement after three weeks of negotiations.

This calls on UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Mohamed El Baradei to report back on Iran’s compliance within 30 days.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the statement ‘demonstrates that the international community is united in its concern over Iran’s nuclear programme’.