AN INVITATION to Islamic preacher Abu Usamah at-Thahabi to speak at Reading University tomorrow night was withdrawn tonight after threats of violent protest from extremist groups.

The preacher was due to address the university's Muslim Society at the Palmer Building - one of a series of talks designed to raise awareness of Islam as a faith as part of its Discover Islam Week.

But members of a campaign group calling itself Student Rights, claiming that Abu Usamah is ant-gay, issued a call for demonstrators to assemble outside the venue 30 minutes before the scheduled start of the event.

Tonight University spokesman Alex Brannen issued a statement saying that the event had been cancelled because the "safety of students, members, staff and visitors is of paramount importance".

The full statement read: " Reading University Muslim Society, Reading University Students Union (RUSU) and the University of Reading are in agreement that the laudable aims of the Muslim Society's Discover Islam Week are undermined by the increasing threat of violent protest from extremist groups outside the University community.

"A careful assessment of the threat to the events on Wednesday and Thursday evening have led all three organisations to reluctantly agree to the cancellation of these talks.

"Our priority is to the safety of all those who had planned to attend or to peacefully protest outside the talk and we are very disappointed that we have had to take this course of action. However, the safety of our students, members, staff and visitors is of paramount importance.

"Both the University and RUSU are committed to supporting the Muslim Society in its aims of raising awareness of Islam and building mutual understanding. We are delighted that other events in the week's programme will be going ahead as planned.

"As part of the review of these events, the University has agreed to work with RUSU to ensure its policies reflect the need to protect the principles of freedom of speech in balance with the rights of all constituent parts of the student community.

"The University is committed to upholding both the right to free speech and the right to lawful protest within an environment that guarantees the safety of all users of our campuses."