Blair tells Britain: Give this visitor a warm welcome

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AN 11th-hour appeal by Tony Blair to give the Emperor and Empress of Japan a "warm welcome to Britain" was rejected last night by veteran Japanese prisoners of war who plan to turn their backs on the royal party as it travels down the Mall.

They also accused the Prime Minister of "betrayal" after Mr Blair urged them in effect to forgive and forget the atrocities which resulted in the deaths of 16,000 British servicemen in labour camps and along the notorious Thai-Burma "Death Railway".

At least 1,000 veterans will turn their backs on the Emperor as he rides with the Queen to Buckingham Palace at 9.30am today as a protest at the continued Japanese refusal to apologise to them and pay pounds 14,000 compensation per prisoner.

As the Emperor's aircraft touched down at Heathrow last night, about 20 survivors of the internment and labour camps held a candle-lit vigil outside the Japanese embassy in Piccadilly.

Joan Bulley, of Surbiton, Surrey, who was held as a small girl in the Lunghua camp - made famous by the film Empire of the Sun - said she was hopeful that the Japanese would finally react to the pressure from survivors.

The veterans will ignore the Prime Minister's coded warning about the possible impact on Britain's pounds 4.2bn exports and 60,000 jobs contained in a statement issued by Downing Street which underlined the Government's anxieties about the protest.

In a clear message to the PoWs, a statement from Mr Blair said that he believed "that to allow our relationship to be defined solely by the past is to fail to understand fully the achievement of those who fought for freedom, for he believes it is thanks to their sacrifices that Japan today is a very different country - democratic with a commitment to peace".

The Prime Minister "believes we can never forget the past or the debt his generation owes to those who suffered but this should not define our relationship today."

The statement said Mr Blair believed the Prime Minister of Japan, Ryutaro Hashimoto, was "absolutely genuine" in the apology he delivered when Mr Blair visited Japan.

However, Arthur Titherington, chairman of the Japanese Labour Camps Survivors' Association, accused Mr Blair of pandering to commercial considerations. "Humanity and justice do not come into it. He won't even agree to meet us."

Sidney Tavender, 80, who spent three-and-a-half years building the Death Railway, went further. "Mr Blair can go and jump in the bloody river," he said. "Blair was not there. He knows nothing about it. I feel disgusted by his reaction - it feels like betrayal."

Veterans' protest, page 5

Leading article, page 20

John Casey, page 21