19/03/2012 11:09 GMT | Updated 19/03/2012 11:23 GMT

Tony Blair Awkwardly Dodges Gay Rights Question In Interview With Liberian President

Former prime minister Tony Blair suffered an awkward few minutes in an interview alongside Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, when he refused to comment on anti-homosexual laws.

In an interview with the Guardian's Tamasin Ford, Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, implied that she would not relax anti-homosexual laws in her country, saying that "we like ourselves just the way we are."

Blair, who is working with Liberia and other African countries through his African Governance Initiative (AGI), became visibly uncomfortable at president Sirleaf's comments, but did not take the opportunity to speak out in favour of gay rights.

Liberia is one of many African countries which restrict gay rights. "Voluntary sodomy" is punishable with one year in prison and gay people have to hide their lifestyle for fear of imprisonment or physical attack.

However, Sirleaf was firm in insisting that she would not decriminalise homosexuality.

When asked for his view, the former prime minister navigated away from the question. "One of advantages of doing what I do now is that I can choose the issues I get into and the issues that I don't," Blair said.

Ford pressed on, asking if Blair believes good governance and human rights go hand-in-hand, but was rebuffed. "You know how long I've been doing these types of interview. I'm not giving an answer on it," Blair concluded.

His refusal to engage was surprising given Blair's own record on equality in office. During his term at No. 10 Downing St, Blair brought in civil partnerships, lowered the age of consent for gay people to 16 and even advised the Vatican to take a fresh view on homosexuality.

Sirleaf and Blair were appearing together to discuss the AGI, which is a scheme to help African governments with infrastructure including roads, jobs and power.