Tony Blair is barracked over Iraq by students at Yale University

By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 3:07 PM on 26th May 2008

Tony Blair was left reeling last night after students disrupted his debut speech at Yale University to protest at his role in taking Britain and America to war in Iraq.

The former Prime Minister, who is normally immensely popular in the US for his support for President George W Bush's 'war on terror', faced an unexpected protest from anti-war protesters when he arrived to give his lecture at the Ivy League university.

Some smuggled banners bearing anti-war slogans into the venue which they held up as Mr Blair was speaking and when he had finished boos could be heard amid the applause.

Disrupted: Tony Blair's speech at Yale University is disturbed by students protesting against the Iraq war

Mr Blair's arrival was met by a small but vocal contingent of protestors waving placards that read "No to Blair" and "Yale! Don't Support a War Criminal", but police held them back from the ceremony, which was held in a large gated garden.

But as he took to the podium, Mr Blair, 54, was met with dozens of red signs that students had hidden under their graduation robes, reading "Peace Now" and "No War".

One student, a young woman wearing a headscarf, stood throughout the ceremony, holding a "Peace Now" sign above her head just 10ft in front of the former Prime Minister, who appeared to be doing his best to avoid looking at her.

Mr Blair also avoided referring to Iraq by name as he talked about the rise of India and China as future world superpowers, the problem of climate change, and the threat of "terrorism fueled by religion".

"Each new generation finds the world they enter," said Mr Blair, who is returning to Yale next year as a lecturer on issues of faith and globalisation. "But they fashion the world they leave."

Staff from the university took photographs of those holding signs, prompting some to hide them under their chairs, but as the parents stood to give a standing ovation following the 20-minute speech, several boos were heard from the students as the protest signs came out again.

The incident was especially embarrassing for Mr Blair because Yale is the university from which his son, Euan, has recently graduated.

The identity of the 2008 guest speaker at Yale had been confirmed in February, but was kept secret until just a few weeks ago because of "security concerns", claimed the university newspaper.

Battling on: Tony Blair carried on despite an unexpected protest from anti-war protesters

It is the second time in two months that Mr Blair has been the focus of protests over his role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq by American and British forces on the false pretext that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

In early April hundreds of anti-war protesters converged on Westminster Cathedral, London, where they tried to drown out Mr Blair's words as he delivered his debut speech on religion at the invitation of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, who had received him into the Catholic Church at Christmas.

The presence of anti-war protesters in American as well as Britain suggests that Mr Blair's decisions on military intervention in Iraq could haunt him for years to come.

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

Then in March he accepted a job at Yale University - one of the top three universities in America - giving seminars on 'faith and globalisation' in which he will focus on how religion can be used to further international relations.

In London this summer he will launch the Tony Blair Faith Foundation which will have similar objectives.

"Be prepared to fail and to succeed," said Mr Blair in his closing comments. "I tried for years to be a politician, and failed, and nearly gave up - some would say I should have."

Now pursuing a life in the lucrative private sector, Mr Blair added: "No one ever died saying; 'I wish I had one more day in the office'."