Remembrance: Blair urges respect for Armistice silence

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The Independent Online
Shops, schools and the Spice Girls will observe two minutes' silence at 11am tomorrow to mark Armistice Day. The Prime Minister is urging Whitehall and Westminster to follow their lead, says Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent.

Tony Blair, who yesterday took part in the wreath-laying at the Cenotaph for the first time as a resident of Downing Street, gave his support to the two minutes' silence.

In a clear signal to the rest of Whitehall to follow suit, Mr Blair told the British Legion that he would observe the silence. William Hague, the Tory Party leader, and Paddy Ashdown Ashdown, also backed the Royal British Legion's call for nationwide observance of a two minute silence. Dame Vera Lynn, BBC 1, BBC Radio 4 and ITN have also pledged their support.

The Speaker of the Commons, Betty Boothroyd has ordered staff at the Palace of Westminster to observe the silence.

Mr Blair told the British Legion: "I am pleased to hear that the Legion is again mounting a public awareness campaign.

"I will be keeping the silence on Armistice Day. I hope and expect millions of others will do the same and that they will be occasions full of dignity, respect and honour."

The Japanese ambassador yesterday joined former prisoners of war at Coventry Cathedral for an historic Remembrance Day wreath-laying ceremony which was also attended by the Provost of Coventry's twin German city, Kiel.

Part of the service was conducted by telephone on loud speakers with two men in Hiroshima taking part. One of the two, a former Japanese POW camp interpreter, made an impassioned appeal for reconciliation.

It was the first time a Japanese ambassador has laid a wreath at a Remembrance Day ceremony in this country.

After the 90-minute service, Sadayuki Hayashi said lessons must be learned. "I am very glad I came here," he said, praising the warm welcome he had received.

Although the service was attended by representatives of the Far Eastern Prisoners of War organisation, FEPOW, some local people were thought to have stayed away in protest at the ambassador's presence.

The Queen Mother yesterday joined the Remembrance Day commemoration at the Cenotaph for the first time in four years as the nation remembered the dead of two world wars and other conflicts including the Falklands and the Gulf Wars.

The Queen led the traditional ceremony in front of thousands of veterans as millions more watched the event on television.

The Queen Mother, 97, wearing a black hat and black coat, was watching the ceremony from a window in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, overlooking the Cenotaph, marking a return to her traditional place after missing the ceremony for three years because of ill-health.

She had also missed Saturday night's annual Festival of Remembrance at London's Royal Albert Hall for the fourth year in succession.

The Prime Minister's family - his wife Cherie, and children Euan, 13, Nicholas, 11, and Kathyrn, aged nine - watched from a balcony alongside the one used by the Royal Family.

The wreath-laying was followed by a short service, conducted by the Bishop of London, The Right Rev Richard Chartres.