Cherie puts foot in it again, saying she has 'problems' with Islamic views about women

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Mr Blair brushed aside questions on whether he agreed with his wife, saying that he had "enough on his plate" . He added: "Since I wasn't at the lunch and I haven't spoken to Cherie about it I think I will just not comment about it further."

The remarks were potentially embarrassing for Mr Blair as he seeks to win over Muslim hearts and minds against the terrorists.

However, journalists who were at the lunch said later that Mrs Blair had never intended any insult to Islam. "She never said, 'I don't like the way that Islam treats women,' " said one journalist who was there. "Mrs Blair said, 'I am fascinated with Islam. The religion has a deep philosophical base, but there are some interpretations by some groups, especially about women, that I have some problems with.' "

She is known as a campaigner for women's rights, and also revealed at the lunch that she has disagreed with her daughter, Kathryn, when as a lawyer she took up the case of a Luton schoolgirl banned from wearing a long dress in class.

Mrs Blair made it clear that she supported the girl's case on human rights grounds but Kathryn took the opposite view.

Mrs Blair also rejected comparisons with Hillary Clinton, the wife of the former American president Bill Clinton. She said that she did not nurse the political ambition to become Prime Minister.

Mrs Blair, who has courted controversy in the past with her outspoken views, including apparently expressing sympathy for the mothers of Palestinian bombers, also made it clear she sometimes disagreed with her husband on policy. "Publicly I have never differed on any of the British Government's policies," she told the female journalists. "In most cases I support my husband's policies, but if I were to say whatever my husband did was excellent or good then it would mean either he is a saint or I am subservient. I am not subservient."

Mrs Blair clearly impressed the Delhi journalists. One headline on a report of her views said: "Cherie speaks easy, shows the steel inside."

She also displayed her fascination with the Indian way of life, adopting Indian dress and a good luck red spot on her forehead during her private engagement.

She said she knew the difference between traditional Indian food and the "chicken tikka masala which has become part of Britain's national cuisine" .

Mrs Blair said that as a girl, she had fantasised about "coming to India and falling in love with an Indian prince" . Mr Blair had more difficulty with journalists at the press conference yesterday, including one Indian reporter who called on him to apologise to the Muslims for the war on Iraq.

Mr Blair rejected the criticism, saying that India was an example, with its large Muslim population, of how Muslims could enjoy the benefits of democracy which the coalition had brought to Afghanistan and Iraq.

In an interview with the Hindustan Times, Mr Blair again asserted that he intended to serve a "full term" . However, on Tuesday in China, he appeared unable to commit himself to being Prime Minister and travelling to Beijing to witness the handover of the Olympic torch in 2008 for the London Games in 2012.

He now faces the Labour Party conference with growing opposition to some of his modernising agenda. Mr Blair said he had no intention of slowing the pace of change for the public services and would be using the coming weeks to set out more details of his plans, which include expanding 200 city academies and bringing more private companies into the NHS.

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