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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 June 2006, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
Blair audience with Pope Benedict
Tony Blair and Pope Benedict XVI
Mr Blair and the Pope discussed how religions can work together

Prime Minister Tony Blair has had a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

They discussed how "moderate voices" from the world's main religions need to work together to tackle extremism and reduce the risk of terrorism.

Moves to end poverty in Africa were also discussed in their first meeting since the Pope succeeded John Paul II in April last year.

Mr Blair has already met Italian prime minister Romano Prodi during his visit.

The prime minister has been on holiday in Italy for a week, and has also met outgoing Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

'Religious extremism'

Mr Blair spoke privately in the pontiff's study for about 35 minutes.

Outlining the nature of the discussions held, a Downing Street spokesman said: "The prime minister and the Pope talked about the challenges of globalisation and the importance of dialogue between the faiths to battle extremism and terrorism.

"One of the themes of discussion was how the moderate voices in all the world's major religions need to stand up to religious extremism in all its forms."

Mr Blair stressed the importance of the international community during his conversation with the Pope.

In Mr Blair's last papal audience on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, he explained to the late Pope John Paul II the reasons why he thought a military attack on Saddam Hussein would be morally justified.

Blair invitation?

Iraq was also on the agenda when Mr Blair met his Italian counterpart Romano Prodi for talks on a range of issues in Rome.

The two leaders discussed the new Italian government's decision to withdraw troops from Iraq, which Mr Prodi reiterated would be done in consultation with the Iraqi and British governments.

The BBC's Christian Fraser said: "The big question is whether, in the course of this meeting, Mr Blair officially invited the Pope to England.

"The Catholic Bishops of England have already asked the Pope to come - an offer politely turned down. But if, as was expected, Mr Blair did bring up the subject then that invitation would be much harder to ignore."

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