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Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed his sorrow yesterday at Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s decision to withdraw from a conference they were both attending in Johannesburg.
“Obviously Tony Blair is sorry that the archbishop has decided to pull out now from an event that has been fixed for months and where he and the archbishop were never actually sharing a platform,” his office said in a statement.
Tutu said on Tuesday it would be “inappropriate and untenable” for him to share a platform with Blair at the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit, being held at the Sandton Convention Centre on Thursday.
This was related to Blair’s decision to join the United States in its invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Blair’s office referred to Halabja massacre, where “thousands of people” were killed by deceased Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons, and to the Iran-Iraq war, as reasons for his decision to join the invasion.
“As far as Iraq is concerned, they have always disagreed about removing Saddam by force. Such disagreement is part of a healthy democracy,” it said.
“These decisions are never easy morally or politically.”
Tutu’s office said the summit had leadership as its theme, and this could not be separated from ideas of morality.
“The archbishop has spent considerable time over the past few days wrestling with his conscience and taking counsel from trusted advisers with respect to his attendance at the event,” it said in a statement.
“Ultimately, the archbishop is of the view that Mr Blair’s decision to support the United States’ military invasion of Iraq, on the basis of unproven allegations of the existence in Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, was morally indefensible.”
Tutu regretted “inconveniencing and disappointing” the summit organisers.
Blair is one of the speakers at the event. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Russian chess grandmaster and political activist Garry Kasparov are also expected to speak.
Muslim political party Al Jama-ah said on Monday it planned to protest against Blair outside the convention centre.
“The demonstration is being held to support a warrant of arrest to charge him for crimes against humanity relating to the invasion of Iraq which led to the killings of millions of Iraqis,” said Al Jama-ah leader Ganief Hendricks.
Hendricks said the City of Johannesburg was allowing the party to hold its demonstration.
“It is hoped that one or more demonstrators will be able to make a citizen’s arrest on the day and put Tony Blair in jail and extradite him to the Hague for trial.”
The website arrestblair.org has offered monetary rewards to people who try to make a citizen’s arrest of Blair for alleged crimes against humanity. Attempts to arrest him have been made in China, outside the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, at the European Parliament, and in Dublin, Ireland.