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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 April 2006, 20:34 GMT 21:34 UK
Rice welcomes democratic protests
Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she had enjoyed her trip to the north-west of England despite continued anti-war protests.

She returns home on Sunday after her tour as guest of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in his Blackburn constituency.

Ms Rice was speaking at Blackburn Town Hall on Saturday following a meeting with Muslim and civic leaders.

Earlier she and Mr Straw had arrived to noise from both protesters and supporters.

"I find them an exercise in democracy, I don't find them off-putting or disconcerting," she told reporters.

Mr Straw described crowds of supporters outside as "remarkable" and dismissed the number of demonstrators as "not large".

"They (protesters) said they were going to get bus loads and bus loads in. Well they didn't do very well," said Mr Straw.

"If they had asked me I could have done better for them."

To me it's astonishing to have a person like that in a town like Blackburn
Judith Hodgkinson

Ms Rice described her meeting with Muslim leaders as "stimulating and candid", and reiterated the warm welcome she had received from a number of local people.

"The opportunity to come here and be in this diverse and very interesting community that has come back from very tough times has really been stimulating for me," she said.

"I've enjoyed it and I'm glad I did it and I look forward to seeing other parts of other countries in the world because I think it's important to get outside of capitals."

One Muslim who met Ms Rice said there had been a useful dialogue at the meeting.

Kam Khotia said he hoped their discussion would have some influence on US foreign policy.

"I am not naive enough to think that this meeting will change American foreign policy overnight," he added.

Mr Khotia said the views of the protesters who were demonstrating outside the town had been put forward to the US Secretary of State.

"There is absolutely no doubt that the Muslim community in Blackburn is opposed to the war in Iraq," he said.

No wave

As Mr Straw and Ms Rice left the town hall there was booing from about 200 demonstrators gathered outside.

The pair did not pause, as they had earlier, to wave at supporters who had gathered further down the street.

Condoleezza Rice
It was not a mistake to overthrow Saddam Hussein... it was not a mistake to unleash the forces of democracy in the Middle East
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

Judith Hodgkinson, 35, from Blackburn, who was among the supporters, said: "I think it is a major coup for Blackburn that she (Ms Rice) is here.

"She's a very powerful woman and she makes very important decisions. To me it's astonishing to have a person like that in a town like Blackburn."

Mrs Hodgkinson's view contrasted with protesters who booed Ms Rice and branded her a "war criminal".

Amar Hassain, 23, a security guard from Manchester, said: "I think it's wrong that we have allowed Condoleezza Rice to come here.

"We are against the invasion of Iraq. It was a criminal offence."

'No mistake'

On the BBC's Today programme Ms Rice said there had been mistakes made in Iraq, saying: "If you've ever done anything then you've probably not done it perfectly."

But she added: "It was not a mistake to overthrow Saddam Hussein. It was not a mistake to unleash the forces of democracy in the Middle East."

The visit to the UK is designed to repay a visit Mr Straw made to Ms Rice's hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, last year.

See protesters at the visit of Condoleezza Rice

Rice gets to see the 'real' UK
01 Apr 06 |  UK Politics
In pictures: Rice visit protests
01 Apr 06 |  In Pictures
In pictures: Rice visits Blackburn
31 Mar 06 |  In Pictures
Rice admits multiple Iraq errors
31 Mar 06 |  Americas
What do you think of Rice's UK visit?
31 Mar 06 |  Have Your Say
Profile: Condoleezza Rice
30 Mar 06 |  Americas


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