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Blair backs prince in diaries row
Prince Charles is suing for breach of copyright and confidentiality.


Is it right for the heir to the British throne to involve himself in political matters?
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Prince Charles
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Hong Kong
Imperial, Royal Matters

LONDON, England -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has defended Prince Charles, saying the heir to the throne is entitled to express his views and has never taken sides in party politics.

The heir to the British throne was embroiled in a row this week when legal action he took to defend his privacy backfired.

But instead of silencing a newspaper that printed extracts from his private diaries, Charles suffered the embarrassment of seeing a former aide telling the High Court in London of his propensity to dispense political advice.

In Britain, the royal family is expected to steer clear of politics.

At his monthly news conference, Blair supported Charles, saying: "He is perfectly entitled to express his views.

"I think that Prince Charles does an amazing job for the country," he added.

Charles must wait to hear if he has won the case. Submissions ended at the High Court on Thursday and the judge said he would give his ruling "as soon as possible" but not next week as he is on holiday.

In the diaries, Charles said the Blair government was always in such a hurry, complaining "They then take decisions based on market research and focus groups."

Blair could not resist a gentle jibe at Charles. Asked by reporters if he felt the prince had overstepped the bounds, Blair quipped to much laughter: "I don't think I can answer that question until I have had the focus group."

Earlier, the prince's lawyer Hugh Tomlinson QC said his client was entitled to keep his private thoughts and observations secret and arguments that the journals should be published in the public interest were "far fetched."

One of the eight journals in the hands of the paper -- extracts from which have already been published -- was released on Wednesday by the prince's lawyers after applications by the media.

The extract, covering a trip to Asia for the handover of the British colony of Hong Kong to China, is entitled "The Handover of Hong Kong" or "The Great Chinese Takeaway." (Watch what the prince said about Chinese diplomats -- 2:14)

In evidence given this week, Mark Bolland, a former aide, told the court the prince saw himself as a "dissident" and had boycotted a 1999 Chinese Embassy banquet out of respect for Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Both Charles's lawyer and current private secretary, Michael Peat, have denied the prince boycotted the banquet. Bolland worked for the prince for six years and resigned in 2002 amid media reports of a clash with Peat.

The extracts in the Mail on Sunday revealed Charles had described Chinese officials as "appalling old waxworks" and called an official ceremony "an awful Soviet style display."

Charles' representatives have said the journal was passed to the newspaper without permission. The Mail on Sunday has said publishing leaked documents is a "classic journalistic enterprise."

The full text of the journal appears to amplify concerns about parts of the Chinese establishment.

"All the locals were being outwardly thoroughly optimistic about the immediate future but in the background was the sneaking worry about creeping corruption and the gradual undermining of Hong Kong's greatest strength -- the rule of law," he wrote.

"Apparently in China itself the army is heavily involved in pretty corrupt business practice, so one can only hope they are confined to barracks in Hong Kong."

After leaving Hong Kong, the prince visited the Philippines. He describes Manila as "an awful, smelly polluted harbor absolutely clogged with filth and rubbish."

But he also states: "The Philippines were incredibly friendly and warm-hearted and pleased to see the British."

He praised Blair, saying, "he is a most enjoyable person to talk to -- perhaps partly due to his being younger than me!

"He also gives the impression of listening to what one says, which I find astounding," the prince writes.

'End of Empire'

Charles is suing for breach of copyright and confidentiality in a case aimed at determining whether members of the British royal family are entitled to the same level of privacy as ordinary members of the public.

The Mail on Sunday argues the public is entitled to know the heir to the throne's political views. Its lawyer said he could not expect these views to remain private as he is "not a person who has acted with discretion or reticence."

The journal also features comments about seating on his journey to Hong Kong on a British Airways 747 with officials from Britain.

He said he found himself and his staff "on the top deck in what is normally club class."

"It took me some time to realise that this was not first class(!) although it puzzled me as to why the seat seemed so uncomfortable."

He said he then discovered that other dignitaries were all "esconced in First Class immediately below us." "Such is the end of Empire, I sighed to myself," he writes.

The hearing continues.

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