Blair and Olympic bid chiefs call for Livingstone apology

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Indy Politics

The bitter row triggered by Ken Livingstone's verbal attack on a Jewish newspaper reporter threatened to damage London's Olympic bid yesterday as the Mayor refused to apologise for his remarks.

Tony Blair called on Mr Livingstone to "apologise and move on" and he has come under further pressure from the leaders of London's Olympic bid during its most important week so far.

Lord Coe, the bid chairman, is believed to have asked for the Mayor to back down amid concerns that the row will make a bad impression on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) team currently in London to assess the capital's plan to stage the Olympics in 2012.

Bid officials said the matter had not been mentioned by the 13-strong evaluation commission during its first working day yesterday. But a bid source said London 2012's management, which has been preparing for three months for the visit, was "spitting blood" over the furore and Mr Livingstone's refusal to back down.

"The timing of this could hardly be worse," the source said. As the inspection began with a series of presentations at a London hotel, Mr Livingstone was one of the first to address the IOC panel alongside Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who has also called on the Mayor to apologise. He ignored a plea by Mr Blair on Channel Five television to be conciliatory. "Let's just apologise and move on - that's the sensible thing," said Mr Blair.

"I am quite sure he did not mean anything remotely anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic about it at all but it's a remark that can cause offence to people and it's best, if that happens, just to accept that, apologise and move on," Mr Blair said.

"It's difficult sometimes in politics but occasionally you have got to know when to say sorry and that's the only way of dealing with it," he added.

A terse statement issued by Mr Livingstone's office said that he "was not making further comment on this issue at the present time" as he was dealing with the IOC visit. It repeated his insistence that he despised anti-Semitism with the same virulence as all other forms of racism.

The Mayor had compared a London Evening Standard journalist, who is Jewish, to a Nazi concentration camp guard. The row now threatens to overshadow a crucial Downing Street summit tomorrow hosted by the Prime Minister for the IOC. Mr Livingstone was expected to attend the meeting along with Ms Jowell.

Michael Howard, the leader of the Conservative Party, and Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, were also on the guest list to emphasise the all-party support for London's bid for the Games.

Members of the International Olympic Committee, not part of the inspection team but among those who will cast their ballot in the final vote in July, have expressed their dismay that Mr Livingstone should become embroiled in such a row.