'Jack and Condi' show gets icy reception in Blackburn

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Indy Politics

Gone was the "Jack and Condi" show of previous days. Mr Straw now kept a respectable physical distance from Dr Rice. And she referred to him as "the Foreign Secretary", rather than by his first name.

Outside though, emotions were still running high. "Condi go home," came the chants from those who claim Dr Rice is a "warmonger and torturer". They accused Mr Straw of riding rough-shod over the feelings of the local Muslim community - which makes up 20 per cent of the Blackburn population - to host a return visit for the Secretary of State, who invited him last October to her native Alabama.

Mayor Yusuf Jan-Virmani, an anti-war Muslim Asian of Ugandan extraction, said he was "delighted" with the jeering from the Stop the War coalition, including demonstrators dressed in orange Guantanamo-style jumpsuits.

"The more boos for me the better," said Mr Jan-Virmani. "I support them. It's important that Condoleezza Rice gets to hear this. This is an opportunity to build bridges and this is what we should be doing."

Kathleen Atkinson was among the small crowd who had waved to the Secretary of State from outside the local Bhs store. She said she approved of the visit because "it's very high profile for Blackburn ... These protesters aren't even from Blackburn." Yesterday's demonstration, which protesters had hoped would attract up to 500 people, included a delegation of the militant Hizb-ut-Tahrir, who carried a banner reading "War on Terror = War on Islam". The jeering could be heard inside the Town Hall at a news conference, after Dr Rice and Mr Straw spoke with20 local Muslim leaders, who said they had reflected concern about the Bush administration's attitude towards Muslims. Dr Rice said they had a "stimulating, interesting and candid dialogue" during the talk.

But Abu Musa, a 27-year-old computer technician, said: "The Muslim leaders don't represent this community. They're just self-interested."