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The most successful countries in the world are those with open-minded people who accept innovation, former British prime minister Tony Blair said on Thursday.
“Those countries who are open to people who are different, those who are open to nations who are different, those who are open to ideas and innovation create successful economies and societies,” he said at the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in Johannesburg.
“This globalised world offers huge opportunities if people are open-minded. I feel that right now that it is very important in terms of leadership... you have to take responsibility for difficult and often profound long-term decisions.”
Blair joked about Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's decision to pull out of the summit in protest at his attendance.
“It's amazing how nice people are to you when you stop being prime minister - except archbishops of course,” he said.
“He (Tutu) is perfectly entitled to do what he wants to do. The essence of democracy is that sometimes you are faced with very difficult positions.”
Tutu withdrew from the conference because of Blair's decision to back the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Blair said removing Iraqi president Saddam Hussein from power had been difficult.
“We are faced with the same types of decisions now with Syria. Do we intervene or not intervene? With Iran, do we allow them to get nuclear capability? Are we prepared to intervene and stop them?”
Tutu's office said earlier in the week that the summit had leadership as its theme, and this could not be separated from ideas of morality.
Tutu believed Blair's support of the US's military invasion was morally indefensible.
Blair fielded questions from the audience about his decision to invade Iraq.
“I took the decision in good faith... I knew it was a highly controversial and difficult thing, but I believed it was right.
“The one thing that I have learnt about leadership is that in the end, that is my responsibility. I have to stand by that 1/8decision 3/8. In the end that is what you will elect leaders to do. I will never regret removing a brutal dictatorship.”
Blair, flanked by bodyguards, spoke about the attempts that had been made to place him under citizen's arrest for crimes against humanity.
“Why don't they actually go protest against the people doing the killing and the bombing and the suicide attacks?”
He said the threat of Islamic fundamentalism was still an important issue the world had to overcome.
“Extremism is still there, but we are not going to (see it end)... until we tackle it for what it is. It is based on a perversion of religion and it has to be stood up to,” Blair said.
“They (extremists) are funded and financed by people with a very warped view of the world and who will take away a lot of the freedoms that we have.”
A member of the audience heckled Blair during his speech.
“Thank you... a little bit of protest to make me feel at home,” he said. The heckler was escorted out of the hall.
The heckler told Talk Radio 702 he had said: “Tony Blair, you are a war criminal and I'd rather listen to Tutu”.
A small group gathered outside the Sandton Convention Centre, where the conference was being held, to protest against Blair's presence.
The protest was broken up shortly after his address. - Sapa