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British prosperity built on african slavery { March 27 2007 }

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March 27, 2007
Protester Disrupts Service With Blair and Queen

LONDON, March 27 — A protester ran to the front of Westminster Abbey during a service on Tuesday commemorating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, shouting, “You should be ashamed!” and “This is an insult to us!” at Prime Minister Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth, who were only a few yards away.

The protester, identified as 39-year-old Toyin Agbetu, was then seized by security guards, taken outside and arrested. He has not been charged but remains in police custody, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said.

Officials at Westminster Abbey said that neither the Queen nor Mr. Blair — both of whom were there with their own security guards — had been in danger.

The incident took place when the service, marking the enactment of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in March, 1807, was well underway. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, had already described slavery as an offense to human dignity, warned that its legacy was “hideously persistent” and said that “we, who are the heirs of the slave-owning and slave-trading nations of the past, have to face the fact that our historic prosperity was built in large part on this atrocity.”

Prime Minister Blair, who was in the audience but did not speak, has already expressed “deep sorrow and regret” at Britain’s part in the slave trade. But he has resisted pressure to make an outright apology.

Outside the abbey, Mr. Agbetu, who campaigns for people of Afro-Caribbean origin in Britain, told reporters that both the queen and Mr. Blair should say they were sorry, the Press Association, the British news agency, reported.

Major General David Burden, the receiver general of Westminster Abbey, said that Mr. Agbetu had a ticket and had gone through normal security screening, including passing through a metal detector.

“I think our response was correct and measured,” he told the Press Association. “It was over fairly quickly. It wasn’t the place to manhandle someone.”

Speaking of protesters at the abbey, he added: “we allow them to speak for a little and then encourage them to leave.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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