Desmond Tutu withdraws from conference to protest Tony Blair

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, pictured here on July 6, 2012, will not attend because he does not want to share a platform with Blair.

Story highlights

  • Tutu decided not to attend because he disagrees with the Iraqi war, Blair says
  • He says both have always disagreed about the removal of Saddam Hussein by force
  • The event is scheduled for Thursday

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu is withdrawing from a conference in Johannesburg to protest the attendance of Tony Blair.

The Discovery Invest Leadership Summit is scheduled for Thursday.

Tutu, a Nobel laureate, will not attend because he does not want to share a platform with Blair, said Roger Friedman, a spokesman for the archbishop. He declined to comment further on the issue.

The former British prime minister said Tutu decided not to attend because he disagrees with his support of the 2003 Iraq war.

"Obviously Tony Blair is sorry that the archbishop has decided to pull out now from an event that has been fixed for months and where he and the archbishop were never actually sharing a platform," Blair's office said in a statement posted on his website.

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"As far as Iraq is concerned, they have always disagreed about removing Saddam by force -- such disagreement is part of a healthy democracy."

Groups have called for a citizen's arrest of Blair since he left office, with one website going as far as offering a reward to people who attempt to detain him. In 2010, protesters called for Blair to face war crimes charges as the former prime minister gave evidence to the Iraq inquiry in London.

Blair has said concern over Iraq's ambitions to develop weapons of mass destruction had been the main factor behind Britain's decision to back the war. No significant caches of chemical or biological weapons have been found in Iraq since the invasion.

Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, and later chaired South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine apartheid-era crimes.

The conference Thursday includes chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov and Richard Gnodde, a chief executive officer at Goldman Sachs International.

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