Massive protests to welcome Bush in UK



LONDON: In a fire-fighting attempt to temper anti-Americanism, Tony Blair has launched his most passionate defence ever of America, its 21st-century wars on terror and President George 'Dubya' Bush, just seven days before the US president controversially sets foot on British soil. Bush's three-day visit, a state occasion initiated by the British monarch, is expected to pull an estimated 100,000 frenzied anti-war protestors, even anarchists, onto London streets from all over mainland Europe.

The demonstrations are expected to be the largest Bush has faced so far, post-Iraq.

But Blair, who himself newly faces fierce criticism from British voters for being too close to Bush, dared the anti-war protestors to do their worst.

"Protest if you will," Blair taunted anti-war protestors at an annual foreign policy jamboree here. "That is your democratic right. Attack the decision to go to war… But accept that the task is not to argue about what has been, but to make what is happening now work…"

Four-million pounds of British taxpayers' money, nearly 4,000 British bobbies and 250 well-armed US secret servicemen have been deployed to protect Bush during a visit widely described as a "security and logistical nightmare". American analysts have already taken to British television screens to admit London presents one of Bush's biggest hurdles in daring – and winning over – world public opinion.

London's anti-war mayor, Ken Livingstone, has already insisted protestors must have as much freedom as possible on the streets of the British capital.

London-based US academic and former Clinton official James Rubin said the Bush White House was certainly jittery about "security caution… after 9/11 and the possibility of a direct attack on the president and his entourage". The London visit marked Bush's first "to a country that was the scene of enormous demonstrations", he said.

But late on Monday night, Blair defiantly insisted it was exactly the right time for Bush to visit the city that played host to the largest anti-war protests in the world in the run-up to America's shock-and-awe Iraq invasion.

Iraq, Blair said, was the "battle of seminal importance for the early 21st century… because it would define relations between the Muslim world and the West. It will influence profoundly the development of Arab states and the Middle East. It will have far-reaching implications for the future conduct of American and Western democracy".

Meanwhile, American security officials are reported to want a forbidding, expensive and disruptive exclusion zone around Bush throughout his time in London.

But campaign spokesman John Rees for the umbrella Stop the War Coalition group has already gone public with his fears about British police "comply(ing) with the White House's request to create an exclusion zone in central London during George Bush's visit".

Blair, Bush's closest ally, tried to draw the demonstrators' sting, denouncing France's knee-jerk anti-Americanism and controversially declaring UK-US troops might have to stay in Iraq for years.

Pouring scorn on anti-American sentiment worldwide, Blair mockingly reminded the world that "those supposedly evil Americans" had newly agreed to spend a huge sum of "their own money" to rebuild Iraq.

He said it was ludicrous that a "large body" of opinion claimed the US-UK forces were "an army of occupation", wanted to suppress Muslims and steal Iraqi oil. In fact, he said, Iraqi money remained under the control of the UN and World Bank.

Advertising the "rebirth of Iraq", Blair said it would mean the "death of the poisonous propaganda monster about America these extremists have created in the mind of much of the world". And urging Western unity, Blair said, one nation could win a war but it took many countries to win the peace… the EU and US must work with each other".

And in yet another controversial admission, he restated the so-called "twin pillars" of British foreign policy, the alliance with America and membership of the European Union.

Blair's brave words come as a new opinion poll, conducted for the Times, London, suggested 60% of British voters disapproved of Bush's handling of Iraq. A similar number believed Blair's personal relationship with Bush was bad for Britain. Just over one-third said they supported the Iraq war.

It will be Bush's first visit to the UK since July 2001.