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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 August 2006, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
Minister criticises Muslim letter
Kim Howells
Mr Howells said policy cannot be influenced by terrorists
Foreign Office minister Kim Howells has criticised Muslim leaders for condemning British foreign policy.

An open letter, signed by three Muslim MPs, three peers and 38 community groups, said the stance on the Middle East has put civilians at risk.

They went on to say that UK policy has given "ammunition to extremists".

But Mr Howells denied there was a "rational connection" and said "no government" formulates policy based on a perceived risk from terrorists.

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

There are many issues which incite people to loath government policies but not to strap explosives to themselves
Kim Howells

Mr Howells told BBC News 24 the letter's comments were "facile".

He said: "I have no doubt that there are many issues which incite people to loath government policies but not to strap explosives to themselves and go out and murder innocent people.

"There is no way of rationalising that.

"I think it is very, very dangerous when people who call themselves community leaders make some assumption that somehow that there's a rational connection between these two things."

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."

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.

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

'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.

MPs Sadiq Khan and Mohammed Sarwar meeting Tony Blair
MPs Sadiq Khan and Mohammed Sarwar at a meeting with the PM

"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.

Liberal Democrats deputy leader Vince Cable agreed there were links with foreign policy but voiced concerns the letter's message might "give some comfort to the kind of people who say: 'Well, change your foreign policy or we'll blow you up'".

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