Blair lectured by pupils at Islamic school

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair was warned the presence of British troops in Iraq was fuelling terrorism when he met moderate Muslim leaders on his visit to Indonesia.

The Prime Minister's plans to build bridges as he visited the most populous Muslim nation suffered when he was confronted about Iraq.

After talks in Jakarta, Din Syamsuddin, head of the 30 million-strong Muhammadiyah, Indonesia's second-biggest Muslim group, said the Islamic representatives told Mr Blair: "The British Government must pull its troops out of Iraq because Iraq's occupation will only stimulate radicalism, extremism and terrorism."

Azyumardi Azra, an Islamic scholar, said he told the Prime Minister "his foreign policies were not making the world any safer".

When Mr Blair visited an Islamic boarding-school, Rezar Rizky, 13, was cheered when he asked him: "Will you ask your best friend George Bush to stop the war in Iraq?" The Prime Minister replied: "I think we will not agree about Iraq and the decision to remove the government there."

He added: "Whatever we thought about the original decision to remove Saddam [Hussein], today we should work with the UN and with other countries to make sure Iraqi people get the same rights as we have in the UK and you have here."

Anissa At Muzir, 17, said she agreed with some of what Mr Blair said but disagreed with his views on Iraq. "His answer is not so satisfactory," she said. "Justice should be applied in a true sense."

Another student asked Mr Blair how he would feel if he were an Iraqi civilian who had had relatives killed in the conflict.

Mr Blair replied: "You feel very strongly that what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan was wrong. I understand that. But in those countries now people can vote and their government should decide what's right and what is wrong."

Mr Blair was due back in Britain early today after a seven-day tour which also included Australia and New Zealand but was overshadowed by speculation about how long he could carry on as Prime Minister. Yesterday, allies of Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Mr Blair played down reports that the Prime Minister planned to announce his departure timetable at this autumn's Labour Party conference. They insisted no deal had been struck between Mr Blair and Mr Brown.

Downing Street has trumpeted an agreement struck with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Indonesian President, for the two countries to cooperate against terrorism and improve understanding between the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds.

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