Massive protests to welcome Bush in UK
RASHMEE Z. AHMED
TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2003 07:05:28 PM ]
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.
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.
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.