The advertising agency behind the controversial Tony Blair "demon eyes" poster has been picked to promote the birthplace of Christ in 2000, it was announced yesterday.

M&C Saatchi, run by brothers Maurice and Charles who headed Saatchi and Saatchi in the Thatcher years for which their political posters became a hallmark, have been given the job of making Bethlehem 2000 one of the world's most significant millennium projects.

Another British-based company, Caribiner, will be co-ordinating the celebrations marking the 2,000th anniversary of Christ's birth. Both firms are also playing a major role in the United Kingdom's centrepiece millennium event - the Dome at Greenwich, in south-east London.

Caribiner UK chairman Mike Lockett said he believed that the connection had helped them secure the Bethlehem contract, although he said the two events were "quite separate".

So far no decision has been made on what shape the Bethlehem celebrations will take, but Dr Hanan Ashrawi, minister for higher education in the Palestinian National Authority, who is heading the project, said the aim was to reinforce the message of peace ushered in with the first millennium in time for the third. "The miraculous birth of Jesus Christ with his promise of peace, hope and redemption marks a turning point in the history of humanity," she said.

"Such an occasion calls for a serious reflection on the human condition. It is time to review the past and to define goals and guidelines for the path of our future."

Jennie Page, chief executive of the New Millennium Experience Company, which is organising the Greenwich event, welcomed news of the appointments. "The British do not have a monopoly in celebrating the turn of the millennium," she said.

"We recognise that in the spirit of the Bethlehem 2000 project, we have much to share in making our individual contributions to the world's celebration of the passing of 2,000 years of culture and in looking forward positively to the future."

One of the aims of Bethlehem 2000 will be to bring an economic boost to an underdeveloped area at a time when the Middle East peace process has reached stalemate. It is hoped that the celebrations - to run from December 1999 to Easter 2001 - will attract global interest.