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UK PM called 'racist' after accusing London mayoral candidate of IS links

Cameron accused Sadiq Khan, Labour's mayoral candidate, of poor judgement for sharing a platform with preacher Suliman Gani
UK Prime Minister David Cameron leaving 10 Downing Street earlier this month (AFP)

British Prime Minister David Cameron drew criticism on Wednesday after accusing the opposition Labour party's London mayoral candidate of associating with a preacher who Cameron claims is a supporter of the Islamic State (IS) group.

Cameron's comments were aimed at Sadiq Khan, a former government minister and human rights lawyer who is leading opinion polls for the 5 May mayoral election.

During Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Cameron accused Khan, who is a Muslim, of appearing alongside controversial imam Suliman Gani on nine occasions, although it appears the preacher may also have links to Conservatives.

"If we are going to condemn not just violent extremism but also the extremism that seeks to justify violence in any way, it is very important that we do not back these people and we do not appear on platforms with them," Cameron said.

The prime minister added that he was "concerned" about Khan, accusing him of appearing "again and again and again" with Gani.

Cameron's comments were interrupted by uproar from Labour MPs, some of whom shouted "racist" and “shame on you” at him.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called the comments "disgraceful" while a Labour source said it "demeans the office of prime minister" to repeat such allegations.

Cameron continued: “The leader of the Labour party is saying it is disgraceful. Let me tell him [...], the honourable member for Tooting has appeared on a platform with him [Gani] nine times. This man supports IS. I think they are shouting down this point because they don’t want to hear the truth.”

Gani vehemently denies any support for IS, saying on Wednesday that he hopes the prime minister will “reflect” on his statements in the House of Commons.

Gani had previously taken part alongside former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg in a public talk entitled “The Evils of ISIS”.

The preacher has also reacted angrily to criticism levelled at Sadiq Khan by Conservative mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith over his dealings with Gani, after Goldsmith accused Khan of poor judgement by sharing a platform with Gani nine times.

Gani responded by publishing pictures of himself alongside Goldsmith as well as with other leading Conservative politicians.

Gani had already said on twitter that he had attended a political event with Goldsmith and had supported a local Tory challenger to Khan at the general election, according to the Guardian.

In an interview with LBC Radio, Gani repeated that he had backed Tory candidate Dan Watkins last May and supplied canvassers for his campaign. He said that now he felt he had been used by the Conservatives “as a scapegoat to discredit Sadiq Khan”.

Khan, the son of a bus driver who moved to Britain from Pakistan, accused Cameron's Conservatives of running a "nasty, dog-whistling campaign that is designed to divide London's communities".

He said on BBC television this week that his work as a human rights lawyer had brought him into contact with some extremists.

"I regret giving the impression I subscribe to their views. I have been quite clear that I find their views abhorrent," he said.

A Downing Street source said that Cameron had been raising an issue about Khan's "judgement" and rejected claims of racism as "complete nonsense".

An opinion poll for the London Evening Standard newspaper this month gave Khan a clear lead with 35 percent of first preference votes compared to 27 percent for Goldsmith.

The race to succeed Conservative Boris Johnson as London mayor has been a charged and often bitter one.

Last month, Goldsmith drew criticism for warning in a campaign leaflet targeted at British Indians that Khan did not attend a rally for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in London last year and that Labour supports a tax on family jewellery.

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