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Last Updated: Monday, 12 July, 2004, 20:23 GMT 21:23 UK
Livingstone invites cleric back
Mr Livingstone asked his guest to attend the Social Forum in October
Mr Livingstone invited the cleric to attend a conference in October
London Mayor Ken Livingstone has invited a Muslim cleric, whose trip to Britain triggered a heated controversy, to come back later this year.

Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi came under attack after describing Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel as "martyrs".

But the Crown Prosecution Service later said that there was not enough evidence to justify prosecuting him on the grounds of his speeches.

Mr Livingstone apologised to his guest and branded the criticism "hysteria".

Speaking on Monday at a conference in London's City Hall on Islamic women's right to wear the hijab or headscarf, the mayor said: "On behalf of the people of London, I would like to apologise to the Sheikh for the outburst of xenophobia in sections of the media.

"It is not the first time it has happened," he continued.


"Many of us have been victims of this in the past when the press write speeches that were not made from a meeting you never attended."

Addressing more than 250 European Muslim delegates, Mr Livingstone went on to say that his guest was a well-respected moderate "who preaches moderation and tolerance to all faiths throughout the world".

He gave the cleric a bear hug and a handshake, and said it would be an "honour" if Sheikh Al-Qaradawi came back to London to attend the European Social Forum in October.

But outside City Hall, homosexual groups rallied against the cleric holding banners that read: "Qaradawi endorses stoning of gays" and "Defend Muslims, fight Muslim homophobia".

Peter Tatchell, of gay rights group OutRage!, said: "It is an insult to every man and woman in London that he has been given a platform.

"He should not be here. His views stir up hatred and prejudice."

Green MEP Jean Lambert, a staunch campaigner against the hijab ban, pulled out of the conference to avoid sharing a platform with the cleric after being told that he described homosexuality as a disease that needed a cure - possibly death.


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