Blair to face his first interview on crisis

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair will conduct his first broadcast interview today about the tsunami disaster since returning to Britain from holiday this week. The Prime Minister will appear on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Last week Mr Blair faced criticism for refusing to cut short his family holiday in Egypt as his ministers worked to co-ordinate Britain's response to the tragedy.

He chaired his first meeting of the Government's disaster committee yesterday. It had been overseen in his absence by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr Blair's apparent failure to take charge contrasts sharply with the active role taken by other cabinet ministers since the catastrophe.

Yesterday Gordon Brown upstaged the Prime Minister by brokering a deal with the leaders of the world's richest nations to suspend the payments on the £3bn of debt of the countries hit by the tsunami for at least a year. The Chancellor provisionally agreed a "new Marshall plan", which would also include $1bn (£531m) of aid by the IMF for the region.

Mr Brown expressed confidence that the deal would be rubber-stamped next week at a meeting of the Paris Club of creditor nations.

The Chancellor, who will attend the three-minute silence at the Welsh Assembly today, will fly out to Africa next week, where aid will again be high on the agenda.

Mr Brown said: "What my discussions with the IMF, the World Bank, the US Treasury Secretary and other financial leaders over the last few days have shown to me is that we never want to be in a position again where we have to choose between emergency aid and tackling the underlying causes of poverty. The world ought to be able to do both."

Meanwhile, Jack Straw flew to Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, ahead of a conference of G8 world leaders on the relief effort tomorrow. On Friday the Foreign Secretary will tour Phuket in Thailand, where British holiday-makers were among those killed.

Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary, left Britain yesterday for Aceh, the stricken Indonesian province, where he is expected to meet government officials and British aid workers. Mr Benn said: "This is a desperate situation which requires us all to do whatever we can to help the countries affected get back on their feet. I will be visiting the region over the next few days to see for myself the situation on the ground and to hold talks with the governments there to discuss the relief effort."

Yesterday there were signs of growing unease among MPs that Mr Blair has not been more visibly active since the disaster struck, particularly since Britain now holds the presidency of the G8 group of industrialised nations.

Government sources hinted that Britain's pledge of £50m of aid could rise after "a further assessment" of the region. The Government has been criticised for having to "catch up" with the amount of aid money donated by the British public.