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Saturday, August 7, 1999 Published at 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK


Blair's holiday charity offer

Mr Blair's move may defuse controversy over his visit

Tony Blair has promised to make a donation to charity after the Italian Government refused to let him pay for his family's holiday in Italy.

Posing for pictures at the start of his Tuscan break the Prime Minister said he had asked to pay for the luxurious villa at San Rossore, near Pisa.

BBC's Eve Conway: Tensions are showing
But because this would have broken local government rules, Mr Blair said he would make a donation to charity instead.

The Blairs' holiday has already been hit by controversy, over £300,000 of local taxpayers' money used to refurbish their villa, and an exclusion zone on a local beach.

[ image: Beach exclusion zone angered locals]
Beach exclusion zone angered locals
The Prime Minister's charity pledge, the amount of which has not been specified, follows his request for Italian authorities to scrap the beach ban.

Speaking at a photocall at the start of his holiday, Mr Blair told reporters: "We, of course, offered to pay but the president did not wish us to do that, but instead we'll make a donation to a charity we have chosen."

He added: "Tuscany is very special to me and my children and that's really what I want to do for the week that I'm here - I'd really like to be with them if that's okay.

"I don't want to spoil someone else's holiday. I just want to have a holiday myself and spend some time with Cherie and the kids."

Protest over Kosovo

The PM's move was criticised by Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdicombe who said it was only local protests and the fear of anger among British voters which forced his hand.

Tuscan Communists have already made it clear that the Blairs will not be welcome.

The Rifondazione Comunista party plans to stage demonstrations during the family's visit in protest at Mr Blair's role during the Kosovo conflict.

It is also feared that Britons staying in the region may stage protests in favour of fox-hunting.

The villa where the Blairs will be staying has been placed at their disposal by Tuscany's regional president Vannino Chiti.

Land access to the former royal estate is customarily restricted, but the nearby coastline is normally open to boaters who can drop anchor, swim, fish and go snorkelling.

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