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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 August 2006, 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK
Muslim plea over foreign policy
MPs Sadiq Khan and Mohammed Sarwar meeting Tony Blair
MPs Sadiq Khan and Mohammed Sarwar at a meeting with the PM
British Muslim groups have written to the prime minister calling for "urgent" changes to UK foreign policy.

In an open letter they say British policy is putting civilians at increased risk in the UK and abroad.

The letter, signed by three Muslim MPs, three peers and 38 groups, also points to the "debacle" of Iraq and the UK's stance over the Middle East crisis.

Downing Street said Tony Blair "stands ready" to meet Muslim representatives when he returns to the UK.

Whether we like it or not such a sense of injustice plays into the hands of extremists
Sadiq Khan, MP

The letter urges the prime minister to redouble his efforts to tackle terror and extremism, and change foreign policy to show the UK values the lives of civilians.

MP Sadiq Khan, who signed the letter, said British foreign policy was seen by many as unfair and unjust.

"Whether we like it or not such a sense of injustice plays into the hands of extremists," he said.

"As moderates we will do all we can to fight extremism. We hope the government will join us in this, not just by changing the rules on hand luggage, but by showing itself as an advocate for justice in the world."

Muslim Council of Britain secretary general Mohammed Abdul Bari said civilians in the UK, the Middle East and the rest of the world should "all enjoy protection".

The letter was also signed by MPs Shahid Malik (Dewsbury) and Mohammed Sarwar (Glasgow Central), and peers Lord Patel of Blackburn, Lord Ahmed of Rotherham and Baroness Uddin.

Desire for democracy

A Downing Street spokesman responded to the letter by saying: "We should always remember that the terrorism affecting the West today has blighted Muslim countries for several decades.

"It certainly pre-dated our decision to support democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq and of course the September 11 attacks.

"Our foreign policy is focused on supporting the people of those countries in their desire to live in a democracy just as we enjoy in the UK."

He also stressed that "nobody could have worked harder" than Tony Blair to achieve a cessation of hostilities in the Middle East.

Other signatories include the Muslim Association of Britain, British Muslim Forum and the lobby group, the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.

'Double standards'

Liberal Democrats deputy leader Vince Cable agreed there were links with foreign policy but voiced concerns about the message being conveyed by Muslim leaders.

He said he was worried that, although the letter was "expressed in very moderate terms", there was "a danger it might give some comfort to the kind of people who say: 'Well, change your foreign policy or we'll blow you up'".

Lord Ahmed, who denied this suggestion, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What we are wanting to do is to be united in condemning attacks on civilians wherever they are."

By way of example, he said the government's stance on Lebanon was seen to involve "double standards" that suggested "we care for some civilians in this part of the world but that we don't care for the civilians elsewhere".

Foreign Office minister Kim Howells said no government would "formulate foreign policy on the basis of a threat that maybe a part of the population won't like it and will resort to terrorism".

He told the BBC: "We live in a democracy where parliament makes decisions and the people have an opportunity, during general elections, if they don't like the government, to get rid of it."

Details of the letter sent to the prime minister

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