Senate asks ex-British PM Blair to Lockerbie hearing: report

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Former British prime minister Tony Blair has been invited to testify before a US Senate committee examining whether BP lobbied for the release of the Lockerbie bomber, reports said Friday.

The ex-premier has been asked to appear at the hearing in Washington on Thursday next week, the BBC and Sky News television reported.

Former British justice secretary and foreign secretary Jack Straw has also been invited to attend the hearing.

Scotland has turned down a request for its Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, who made the decision to release the bomber, to give testimony.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, the only man convicted over the 1988 bombing that killed 270 people, was freed by Scotland last August after being given three months to live.

But he is still alive almost a year later in his native Libya.

His release sparked outrage in the US, where most of the victims came from, and the anger has been renewed recently by senators' claims that BP may have had a hand in the affair.

Blair, British premier from 1997-2007, was not leading the country when Megrahi was released but helped negotiate a controversial prisoner transfer accord with Libya.

BP last year admitted lobbying the British government to speed up the signing of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) to smooth its business ties with Libya, but it denied pressing for the release of Megrahi.

Straw, who played a key role in the PTA as justice minister when the deal was struck, said Thursday he was considering the request to testify at the hearing.

"Before coming to any decision as to whether to accept this invitation, I shall be consulting Gordon Brown, as prime minister at the time, and seeking the advice of the Foreign Office," he said.

"It is, in my experience, highly unusual for the legislature of one sovereign state to conduct an inquiry into decisions of another sovereign state."

Straw, who is now justice spokesman for the opposition Labour party, had sought to ensure that Megrahi would not be eligible to return home under the deal, a stance that stalled the talks for six months.

But on December 19, 2007, he wrote to MacAskill to say he had been unable to secure an exemption for Megrahi.

In the end, the Lockerbie bomber was not freed under the prisoner transfer accord but by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Scotland was strongly opposed to the PTA.

Scotland forms part of Britain, but under its devolved system of government has control over its own justice matters.

A Scottish government spokesman said Thursday MacAskill would not attend the US Senate hearing.

"We believe we have provided full and relevant information," said a spokesman.

© 2010 AFP

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