Monday, June 16, 2008
Bush's final visit to Britain is overshadowed by violent clashes with anti-war protesters
Police clashed violently with anti war protesters last night at a rally against George Bush's farewell visit to Britain. Two hundred yards from Downing Street, where Mr Bush was dining with Gordon Brown, riot police confronted hundreds of ant-war protesters as they pushed against security barriers.
There were several injuries during the stand-off which began when more than 2,500 marchers converged outside the Houses of Parliament. The Metropolitan Police deployed 1,200 officers to protect the president.
A row of barriers had been erected across Whitehall - which runs past Downing Street.
That was backed up by two rows of policemen, two lines of police vans packed tightly across the road, and then a line of mounted police officers in front of another row of sturdy barriers.
There was a sea of placards with slogans denouncing the U.S. leader as demonstrators chanted 'George Bush: terrorist' to the beating of drums. Protesters who broke through the first line of barriers were seized by police officers, handcuffed and led away. Others wandered back from the front of the barriers, dazed and bloody. A 17-year-old girl was detained on suspicion of assaulting a police officer.
Protester Mary Robin, 61, said: 'There is never trouble at these things, but there were so many police officers it was like a war zone on our streets.' Suzanna Wylie, 29, from London, was left bleeding from a head injury. She said: 'We were standing near the front, the police shouted at us to move back, we tried but couldn't and they started hitting people on the heads with their truncheons. "It was frightening. I somehow got hit. I was caught between the police in front of me and people behind me who were throwing things at the police."
Members of the Stop War Coalition, CND and the British Muslim Initiative organised the rally which began with speeches from Tony Benn, Bianca Jagger and George Galloway.
Many protesters were angry they had not been allowed to march past Downing Street but a police spokesman said Whitehall had been closed for two wreath laying ceremonies and 'security reasons'.
The events on the streets deepened the shadow of war which hung over Mr Bush's visit yesterday.
In Afghanistan, the bodies of Lance Corporal James Bateman and Privates Jeff Sean Doherty, Nathan Cuthbertson, Charles David Murray and Daniel Gamble were put aboard an RAF plane and will arrive home today. The five paratroopers were killed in two Taliban attacks within seven days - the regiment's worst week of losses since the Falklands conflict a quarter of a century ago.
In London, Downing Street was quick to deny a split with the U.S. after the president appeared to warn against British attempts to accelerate troop withdrawal from Iraq. Then, at last night's dinner, it looked as though the Prime Minister might be offering Mr Bush a history lesson with three academics - Simon Schama, Sir Martin Gilbert and David Cannadine - as guests.
Professor Schama, presenter of the BBC's History of Britain series, has described Mr Bush as 'an absolute fucking catastrophe'. He has said the American people felt a 'sense of moral nausea at the evils done in their name' in Iraq.
Mr Brown has been looking to speed up the withdrawal of British forces from Iraq, but has faced White House pressure to stay on. Britain still has 4,200 troops there. In an interview yesterday, Mr Bush opposed a timetable for withdrawal. 'Our answer is: there should be no definitive timetable.' No 10 rejected suggestions of a rift, pointing out that Mr Brown had long rejected an arbitrary timetable.
Bush will go on to Belfast before flying home. It is expected that he will get a similar reception there!