Protesters aim to drown out Blair's speech on religion after 'illegal war'

Last updated at 01:58 28 March 2008

Anit-war protesters plan to create a "wall of sound" to disrupt Tony Blair's debut speech on religion, it emerged yesterday.

The former prime minister, a recent convert to the Roman Catholic Church, is to speak on the subject of "faith and globalisation" at Westminster Cathedral next Thursday.

Thousands of demonstrators who object to his role in taking Britain to war in Iraq are planning to disrupt the event by drowning out his words.

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Robin Best of the Stop the War Coalition, which is organising the protest, said: "We want people to bring musical instruments and sound making implements of every kind - drums, trumpets, saxophones, violins, cymbals, whistles, sirens, horns, rattles, saucepans and cans to bang.

"We want every type of band, choir and musical group to join us, all with the aim of drowning out the speech of a man who should not be in a cathedral pulpit but in the dock of a criminal court."

He added: "No doubt Blair will be pontificating about the 'values' and 'morality' of his 'faith' and how they guided him in making 'difficult' decisions, like the slaughter of up to one million Iraqis and the total destruction of their country in an illegal war.

"Blair is a war criminal who should have been silenced five years ago by MPs in parliament, when they had the chance to vote against a war which they knew was opposed by the vast majority of people in this country."

A number of high-profile "celebrities", who have not yet been publicly named, are also expected to attend the protest and may speak against Mr Blair's role in the Iraq war.

Mr Blair was invited to give a lecture by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the spiritual leader of the Catholics of England and Wales who received him into the Church just days before Christmas.

His conversion, though widely expected, drew criticism from Catholic commentators because of he had pursued a war the Vatican had vigorously opposed.

Less than a month before British troops went into action five years ago, Mr Blair was invited to Rome by Pope John Paul II where in the course of a 15-minute meeting he was told in no uncertain terms that the Catholic Church was opposed to military action.

The Pope explained that Christians were called to be "guardians of peace" and that a war would “disturb the whole of the Middle East region and exacerbate tensions that unfortunately are already present".

The Pontiff told Mr Blair that the "future of humanity will never be able to be assured by terrorism and the logic of war".

Mr Blair, however, later told Michael Parkinson that he felt he was carrying out God's will by invading Iraq.

Catholic peace activists will also be demonstrating on the cathedral piazza but they are planning a silent vigil before the major demonstration begins.

However, they will be holding up banners quoting Pope John Paul's warnings against the war in Iraq.

Pat Gaffney, the general secretary of Pax Christi UK, a Catholic peace movement, said: "Many people are dismayed that he has been able to act against clear Catholic teaching on this."

Bruce Kent, the former MP and veteran Catholic peace activist who will be attending the event, said he would like to see Mr Blair acknowledge his mistakes.

"Mr Blair launched an illegal war on false pretences in violation of the United Nations charter. I don't think he has a good enough track record to be preaching on 'faith and globalisation'."

Catholic officials have said in the past that Mr Blair's conversion "is not retrospective" and that he does not have to account for previous actions and beliefs.

Pope Benedict XVI received the news of his conversion "with joy".

Shortly after leaving Downing Street last June, after a decade in office, Mr Blair accepted the role as the Middle East peace envoy of the quartet of the U.S., EU, Russia and the UN.

Earlier this month he also accepted a job at the Ivy League Yale University – one of the top three universities in the U.S. - giving seminars on "faith and globalisation", in which he will focus on how religion can be used to further international relations.

In Britain, he also plans to launch the Tony Blair Faith Foundation within the next few months, and this will have the similar objectives.

Mr Blair is able to command fees of £75,000 for lectures in the U.S., but it is believed that he has agreed to speak at Westminster Cathedral for free.

More than a thousand free tickets allocated for the event have already been snapped up.

For security reasons, the Catholic Church kept the identity of the first of its guest speakers a secret but it was leaked to the press.

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