By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 4:57 PM on 28th April 2011
- Backed by Buckingham Palace, William Hague decided diplomat's presence would be 'unacceptable'
- Downing St: 'It is a family wedding, not a state occasion'
- Now demonstrators, including Peter Tatchell, gather outside Saudi Arabian embassy in London to protest over ambassador's invite
- Fury of Labour MPs that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have been excluded
- 200 members of Syria's ruling Baath Party resign over brutal crackdown
The Syrian ambassador's invitation to tomorrow's wedding has been dramatically withdrawn.
The announcement, less than 24 hours before the service is due to take place, came amid mounting fury that a representative of Middle Eastern despot President Bashar Assad was to attend.
Labour MPs said the attendance of Sami Khiyami, while former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have been excluded, 'bordered on the grotesque'.
With the backing of Buckingham Palace, Foreign Secretary William Hague decided that Ambassador Khiyami's presence would be 'unacceptable' at a time when Britain is at loggerheads with Damascus over the bloody crackdown on protesters against President Assad.
The Queen receiving the Syrian Ambassador when he presented his diplomatic credentials at Buckingham Palace. Today, Dr Sami Khiyami's inivation to her grandson's wedding was dramatically withdrawn
The Foreign Office statement came soon after former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw intervened in the row, saying the authorities should have found a way to ensure the Syrian ambassador did not attend.
Mr Straw also became the most senior Labour figure to raise questions about the decision not to invite Mr Blair and Mr Brown.
'NOT CONSIDERED APPROPRIATE': THE FOREIGN OFFICE WITHDRAWS INVITE TO SYRIAN AMBASSADOR
Announcing the withdrawal of Dr Sami Khiyami's invitation, the Foreign Office said: 'Representatives of countries with which the UK has normal diplomatic relations have been invited to the wedding.
'An invitation does not mean endorsement or approval of the behaviour of any government, simply that we have normal diplomatic relations with that country.
'In the light of this week's attacks against civilians by the Syrian security forces, which we have condemned, the Foreign Secretary has decided that the presence of the Syrian Ambassador at the Royal Wedding would be unacceptable and that he should not attend.
'Buckingham Palace shares the view of the Foreign Office that it is not considered appropriate for the Syrian Ambassador to attend the wedding.'
Dr Khiyami's invitation sparked anger because of the bloody crackdown on protests, which are believed to have left as many as 500 civilians dead and even reportedly prompted mass resignations by members of President Assad's ruling party.
More than 200 members quit the Baath party in the southern province at the epicentre of the country's uprising to protest President Assad's brutal crackdown.
The uprising is the gravest challenge to his family's 40-year ruling dynasty.
Mr Straw said he believed a way could have been found to avoid the attendance of Dr Khiyami, who was summoned to the Foreign Office on Tuesday to receive a dressing-down over his government's handling of protests.
And describing himself as 'surprised' that Mr Blair and Mr Brown were not invited, Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'I certainly think the former prime ministers should have been.'
Asked in an interview for Colombian TV whether he was upset not to have been invited to the wedding, Mr Blair responded: 'Absolutely not at all.'
Mr Blair said he was 'delighted' for the royal couple and thought it was 'completely sensible' for them to invite people from different walks of life, rather than politicians, to tomorrow's ceremony.
Crown Prince Salman al Khalifa of Bahrain has already pulled out of the wedding because of controversy over the brutal response to demonstrations in his country.
Downing Street said that Prime Minister David Cameron agreed with Mr Hague's decision that it would not be appropriate for the Syrian envoy to attend, but played down suggestions that it amounted to political interference.
'It is a family wedding, not a state occasion,' said a spokeswoman. 'The guest list has been compiled by the couple and the royal household.
A tank moves through the city of Daraa in Syria. The country's government has been warned it faces war crimes prosecutions and last night ordered in more tanks to crush an uprising said to have cost the lives of 500 peaceful protesters
Protesters are seen holding placards during a demonstration in Douma, Syria, earlier this month. A Syrian human rights organisation today claimed the country's security forces have killed at least 500 civilians in a crackdown
'Regarding foreign countries, it is right that the Foreign Office has discussions with the palace.'
She added: 'The British public have seen what has happened in Syria and probably agree that the Foreign Secretary's decision is a good one.'
She refused to be drawn on whether the move reopened questions about other countries' representatives attending the wedding.
Bahraini pro-democracy campaigners were mounting a vigil outside Saudi Arabia's embassy in London today to protest against the invitation to Prince Mohamed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, following the Saudi military intervention in their country.
Human rights protester Peter Tatchell, who is joining the demonstration, demanded the withdrawal of the invitations of royals from seven countries, including Saudi Arabia.
'It is deplorable that the Queen has invited royal representatives from the dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Swaziland, Kuwait, Qatar, Brunei and Abu Dhabi,' said Mr Tatchell.
'The guest list displays a shocking insensitivity to the suffering of people who have been persecuted by these royal despots. It is an insult to the victims of dictatorship for our Royal Family to welcome and embrace these oppressors.'
Malawi's invitation has already been withdrawn following the expulsion of the acting high commissioner in a 'tit-for-tat' dispute with the African state.
The Syrian government has been warned it faces war crimes prosecutions and last night ordered in more tanks to crush an uprising said to have cost the lives of 500 peaceful protesters.
It has also emerged that St Andrews, the university where William and Kate met, is reviewing its use of Syrian funding secured by Dr Khiyami.
His planned presence at Westminster Abbey stoked the anger of Labour MPs, already at loggerheads with palace aides over the exclusion of Mr Blair and Mr Brown.
There are protests that seven more royal 'tyrants' or their envoys from around the world are on the guest list despite records of repression and torture.
Labour is infuriated that while surviving former Conservative leaders Baroness Thatcher and Sir John Major, as well as David Cameron, have been invited to share the royal couple's big day, its former prime ministers have not.
Tory MPs and palace sources have dismissed claims of a 'snub' as absurd, insisting Lady Thatcher and Sir John were asked because they are members of the Order of the Garter.
Invited: Lady Thatcher and Sir John Major, both former Conservative PMs have both received invites
Snubbed: Labour MPs have been angered by the Palace's decision to exclude former PMs Gordon Brown and Tony Blair
THE 100,000 LINK TO ST ANDREWS
The University of St Andrews has launched a review of one of its research centres after it emerged that funding was arranged by associates of the Syrian regime.
The institution, where Prince William and Kate Middleton met as students, received more than 100,000 in funding with assistance from Bashar Assad's government.
The Syrian ambassador to the UK, Sami Khiyami, whose invitation to the royal wedding has been dramatically withdrawn, helped secure the funds, used to set up the university's centre for Syrian Studies in 2006.
Last night the university admitted it would be reviewing the centre's work 'to ensure its high academic standards are maintained'. It follows the row that engulfed the London School of Economics over its links with Muammar Gaddafi's regime in Libya.
Funding for the centre was secured with the help of Dr Khiyami, who persuaded Syrian-born British businessman Ayman Asfari to pay for it. Mr Asfari is head of Petrofac, an oil and gas services company based in London and Aberdeen.
The centre's board of advisers boasts of other figures closely associated with the regime. One is Fawaz Akhras, a British-based cardiologist who is Assad's father-in-law.
The Daily Mail has learned that members of other hard-line regimes including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Swaziland, Kuwait, Qatar, Brunei and Abu Dhabi will be at the Abbey.
Leaders from North Korea and Iran have also been invited.
Yesterday's disclosure that the Syrian ambassador was to have been included came the day after the United Nations secretary general condemned it for using tanks and live ammunition against its own people.
Calling for an independent investigation, Ban Ki-Moon said Syrian authorities had an obligation to respect human rights.
Former Labour Europe minister Denis Macshane had been scathing of the decision to invite Dr Khiyami. He said: 'Rolling out the red carpet for petty tyrants who back home chop off people's arms and hands, or in the case of Syria, send tanks to crush peaceful protests, is bordering on the grotesque. We still don't know what say the Government had in the gigantic diplomatic and political guest list for Friday.'
The Foreign Office had yesterday summoned Dr Khiyami to reiterate its call for President Bashar Assad's government to end its violent crackdown. Officials said they told him that the repression of demonstrators across the country was 'unacceptable'.
On the controversial wedding invitations, a senior Foreign Office source said: 'Those countries with which we have normal diplomatic relations and ambassadors in London are invited to the wedding, and while we have strong disagreements with many of them, this remains the case.'
Foreign Secretary William Hague and his wife Ffion, meanwhile, are throwing an alternative royal wedding party for foreign VIPs which is expected to cost the taxpayer 15,000.
Representatives of notorious dictatorships including North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe and Syria are among 300 dignitaries who have been invited to the lavish champagne and canaps reception, which is being laid on by the Foreign Office.
It is designed as a 'consolation prize' for diplomats who are deemed not important enough to attend an afternoon reception for 650 guests hosted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
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