Blair apologises for evicting veteran campaigner

29th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

29 September 2005, LONDON/BRIGHTON - A veteran anti-war campaigner and Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany became the unexpected hero of the annual conference of Britain's Labour Party on its closing day Thursday.

29 September 2005

LONDON/BRIGHTON - A veteran anti-war campaigner and Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany became the unexpected hero of the annual conference of Britain's Labour Party on its closing day Thursday.

Walter Wolfgang, aged 82, took centre stage after he was evicted from the conference hall the previous day for shouting "rubbish" at a speech on Iraq by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

The incident, during which Wolfgang was literally pulled out of his seat in the visitors' gallery by burly stewards, prompted an angry response from delegates who said it reflected the leadership's nervousness over the Iraq issue.

On Thursday, as Wolfgang returned to the hall cheered on by delegates and activists, Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was "really sorry" about what happened.

"Overzealous stewards" would receive better training in future, he promised. The party leadership and Defence Secretary John Reid, closing the conference, also apologized.

But Wolfgang, who Wednesday evening was barred from re-entering the hall by a police officer citing anti-terrorism laws, said his protest was not important.

"They made a small mistake which was rectified - unlike the big mistake we made in invading Iraq", he said Thursday.

The party, of whom he had been a member for 57 years, needed to "get back to a culture which is open to argument", he said.

Anti-war MP Alica Mahon said the treatment of Wolfgang was an illustration of how the leadership treated dissent.

"Iraq can't be hidden. It is the most important issue in the country," she said.

She and others regretted that Blair and others in the government and party leadership had refused to allow a broad debate on Iraq and rejected motions calling for an early withdrawal of British troops.

DPA

Subject: German news

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