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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 April 2006, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Rice shrugs off UK visit protests
Jack Straw and Condoleezza Rice arrive at Blackburn town hall

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said she is not troubled by noisy protests against her current UK visit.

"I find them an exercise in democracy, I find them not in any way off-putting or disconcerting," she said, on a visit to the north-west town of Blackburn.

Angry demonstrators could be heard as Ms Rice held a joint press conference with her UK counterpart Jack Straw.

The secretary of state spoke after having held what she said were positive talks with local Muslim leaders.

About 200 noisy demonstrators - some of whom carried a coffin draped with a US flag - were gathered outside the town hall where Ms Rice and Mr Straw spoke to reporters.

Asked if she had been embarrassed by the protests which have followed her around on her two-day visit, Ms Rice said she respected the demonstrators' right to protest.

"Democracy is the only system that allows people to be heard and be heard peacefully," she said.

"When there are more places where people's voices can be heard peacefully, especially in the Middle East, we are all going to be better off."

Saddam overthrow 'right'

Ms Rice said her meeting with local Muslim leaders had been "stimulating and candid".

Guantanamo is there for a reason, because we captured people on battlefields
Condoleezza Rice
US Secretary of State
She said they had discussed how conflicts could be better resolved through "politics and debate than through conflict and violence".

What had emerged, she said, was the view that "There is no difference or conflict between Islamic values and democratic values.

"In fact people who practise Islamic faith live here in a great democracy, as participants in a great democracy, as they do in the United States, as they do in India, in Indonesia and other places around the world."

The secretary of state defended US foreign policy, including the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"I am confident the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein and give the Iraqi people the right to democracy was the right decision," she said.

Remarks 'misconstrued'

Ms Rice said comments she made on Friday, in which she said the US had made "thousands" of tactical errors in Iraq, had been misunderstood.

She said she had been speaking "figuratively, not literally. I was not sitting around counting".

Asked when the US was planning to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, the secretary of state said the camp would not remain open "any longer than is needed".

But she said: "We have to recognise Guantanamo is there for a reason, because we captured people on battlefields... who were either plotting or planning or actively engaged in terrorist activities."

Ms Rice's visit to the Blackburn - Jack Straw's political constituency - is in reciprocation for Mr Straw's trip to Ms Rice's home town of Birmingham, Alabama, last year.

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30 Mar 06 |  Americas

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