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Leo’s gift to Chirac backfires on Blair

London, Nov. 25: Leo Blair, the Prime Minister’s three-year-old son, was at the centre of a security scare which turned to a farce last night after President Jacques Chirac proudly displayed a photograph of him.

The picture, signed by Leo himself, was intended as a private gift from the Prime Minister that he hoped would help unfreeze relations between the two leaders after a year of disagreements over Iraq, European defence and the common agricultural policy.

But, instead of healing divisions, the stunt backfired spectacularly when Downing Street suddenly got cold feet about the picture and appealed to newspapers not to publish it, even though it had already been flashed around the world.

Compounding the fiasco, Downing Street then changed its tune again, lifting the ban on publication and allowing newspapers and television stations to use the picture as they wished. The day of confusion began when Blair presented the French President with the framed photo with Leo’s own scrawled signature beneath. Chirac immediately whipped the photograph out of the envelope and proudly posed with it for photographers.

At a later press conference at Lancaster House, Chirac said he was thrilled with the gift. “That was a very, very friendly gesture that I appreciated fully,” he said. Despite No 10’s following plea for the photograph not to be published, BBC1’s news featured pictures of Chirac showing off the picture — with Leo’s face clearly visible. Downing Street said this was acceptable because it was a “wide shot”. What they didn’t want were close-ups appearing in papers.

Although Downing Street says it is determined to protect the family’s privacy, the Blairs have made use regularly of their children for electoral purposes.

Announcing Leo’s birth in May 2000, Blair walked out into Downing Street carrying a mug decorated with a picture of the Blairs’ three other children.

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