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British schools 'drop Osama town'

A group of British schools ended an educational partnership with teachers and pupils in the Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was killed, fearing bad publicity.

They cancelled a planned visit by teachers from Abbottabad to Blackburn, upsetting Pakistanis who said that a key purpose of the exchange was eradicating stereotypes.

"Abbottabad residents and students had nothing to do with Osama or any of his activity," said Zafar Abbasi, an Abbottabad school official. "Linking them with Osama is regrettable, and depriving students of the programme is even worse."

Four government schools and one private school in Abbottabad were partnered with four schools in Blackburn, which experienced tensions between white and South Asian residents in the past.

The British Council, the government's international cultural relations body, oversaw the relationship under its Connecting Classrooms programme, spending about £30,000.

In recent months, the pace of activity had slowed down, a source said, and funding was running out. But the British Council decided to try to re--energise the programme, and a visit to Blackburn by five Abbottabad teachers was scheduled for mid-May.

Then bin Laden was killed in a raid by US Navy SEALs, putting Abbottabad on the world map.

Emails obtained by The Associated Press news agency indicate school leaders in Blackburn were aghast at the possibility of publicity if Abbottabad teachers suddenly showed up in their town, where the anti-immigrant British National Party has been active.

Pakistani teachers involved said not only was the May trip cancelled, but Blackburn officials also would not conduct a planned video conference with them and told them they were severing ties. The Pakistanis had expected up to six months more of contacts.

Blackburn's director of education said the British Council funding was supposed to end "around this time." "A decision was taken in consultation with headteachers to wind down the scheme slightly earlier," said Harry Devonport.

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