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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Blair joins tribute to British victims
The wreckage at the World Trade Center
The attacks are thought to have killed 200-300 Britons
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair will join families of the British victims of the US terror strikes at a special memorial service in New York on Thursday afternoon.

Amid a shuttle diplomatic tour of talks with world leaders, Mr Blair will hear first hand the personal accounts of bereaved relatives of many Britons who died in the atrocities.

The courage, resilience and humanity shown by the people of New York over the last few, dreadful days, has inspired us all

Tony Blair
As well as paying tribute to those British victims at the service at New York's St Thomas's Episcopal Church, Mr Blair and his wife Cherie will meet some of the firefighters who have worked on the huge rescue effort.

The prime minister arrived in the city at about 1730 BST and will later leave for talks with US President George Bush in Washington.

Joining the tribute

Between 200 and 300 Britons are thought to have died in last week's atrocities and some of their families will join the worship and tributes at the church.

Mr Blair will read a lesson at the service, during which the British Ambassador to the America, Sir Christopher Meyer, will also read a message from the Queen.

Ahead of the visit, Mr Blair has praised the courage of New Yorkers in an article for the New York Post newspaper.

Tony Blair at talks with French President Jacques Chirac on Thursday
Blair has been on a hectic diplomatic tour
In the article, he renewed his promise to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the US against international terrorism.

He said: "New York has always been admired around the world. But that admiration, I can promise you, has never been greater than now.

"The courage, resilience and humanity shown by the people of this city over the last few, dreadful days, has inspired us all."

People in the UK shared New York's "profound disbelief, shock and grief" at the attacks, he continued.

Mr Blair's first duty on arriving in New York will be to visit the central New York Fire Department.

There, he will lay a wreath amid the wall of flowers given from the grateful New York residents.

Firefighters honoured

Ten of the station's 75 firefighters are missing and presumed dead and some of their photos lie among the floral and written tributes.

Stephen Riccio, a firefighter who was at the disaster scene within minutes of the attacks on the World Trade Center, described Mr Blair's visit as an honour.

"It's extraordinary, it is a once-in-a-lifetime chance," said Mr Riccio, who told of his grief at every day discovering he had lost another friend or someone he knew.

James Wendling, battalion chief at the station, also said his men welcomed the visit but they realised it was because their station had lost so many men.

"The prime minister has said he wants his visit to be informal, to offer some emotional support and to wish us all the best, understanding our situation.

"It is viewed as a special event. He is a world leader and we appreciate his support."

Shuttle diplomacy

Mr Blair's New York visit is expected also to include brief meetings with the city's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former US President Bill Clinton and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

On Thursday morning, he met French President Jacques Chirac as part of his efforts to cement a world coalition against global terrorism.

On the marathon diplomatic tour, he has already met German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and during his flight to the US had what he called "a remarkable conversation" with Iranian President Mohammed Khatami.

The prime minister is expected to leave for Washington at about 2045 BST for talks in the White House and a meeting with US congressional leaders on Capitol Hill.

After that meeting, he will cross the Atlantic again for the emergency European Union summit on Friday.

The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"Complete solidarity was the overiding message"
See also:

20 Sep 01 | Europe
Blair confident on coalition
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