UK welcomes Bush
Britain is doing up Mr. Bush's visit right. Sounds like a blast!
Bush faces fiery welcome
Monday November 3, 2003
This Wednesday Guy Fawkes will share his perch on bonfires with a man who, his critics say, poses as great a danger as the 17th-century conspirator once did.
Anti-war campaigners will prop grinning effigies of George Bush on to pyres around the country, hoping to stoke up opposition to his state visit to Britain this month.
The gesture is an apt one, for the US president can expect pyrotechnics when he arrives on November 19. Protesters angered by the invitation hope it will backfire on the government; George Galloway MP has described it as "sheer political madness".
Activists say it is galvanising opposition to the occupation of Iraq, and demonstrators will travel from across Europe to join the protests in London.
"Although people were prepared to suspend their disbelief [to support troops], events around the war and immediately afterwards have made them think they should be opposing it again," said Lindsey German of the Stop the War coalition.
"The invitation adds insult to the injury caused by the war. People are saying this is the most antagonised they have felt since February [before the war began]."
Bush's three-day stay is the first official visit by a US president since Ronald Reagan's in 1982. But despite the rarity of the diplomatic honour, Downing Street has refused to comment, beyond describing it as an opportunity "to deepen our close relationship with a close international partner".
Critics argue it provides Mr Bush with an opportunity to portray himself as a well-respected statesman in the run-up to next year's presidential elections. And they are determined to show the world that British opposition to involvement in Iraq has not faded.
"Our main message is to Blair, but undermining Blair undermines Bush," said Simon Hester, an activist at a recent meeting in London to plan the protests.
"If we can help sabotage George Bush's election campaign, so much the better. We want to send a message to all the people of the world - I think our best defence against a terrorist outrage is having a huge demonstration."
While protests will take place across the country, from small communities, such as Calderdale and Keighley, to cities such as Sheffield and Wolverhampton, the focus will be on London.
Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan police commissioner, this week said he expected demonstrations of up to 60,000 people and was cancelling leave for all officers.
But it seems that both the organisers of the visit and the protesters hope to keep each other guessing as to their arrangements until the last moment. A Buckingham Palace spokesman said Mr Bush's itinerary was still being prepared and he refused to confirm that the prospect of protests had ruled out a carriage procession or a direct address to parliament, as campaigners claim. They have vowed to dog him every step of his way.
Ms German said: "We are saying he will not be able to drive round London and go to banquets and have photo-opportunities for his forthcoming election campaign back home without it being clear that opposition to the occupation of Iraq continues on a mass scale in this country
"People feel they have a right to protest and to protest in an effective way; getting close to him and making their voices heard.
"But if the only way to get Bush round London is behind a huge iron curtain of security, that in itself will be a terrible blow to the idea that he is welcome here."
No one expects the turnout to rival the million or more who marched against the war in February, not least because these demonstrations will take place on weekdays.
But even a handful of activists can have a huge impact, as Free Tibet protesters showed during Jiang Zemin's state visit in 1999.
While the police presence may be larger this time, it is also likely to be more low profile than during the visit from the Chinese president of the day, when officers unlawfully seized flags and banners.
"[People] have a legitimate right to be protesters and we will uphold their democratic right to protest," a Met spokeswoman said.
The most controversial protest will be a non-violent act of civil disobedience at Buckingham Palace. Milan Rai of the anti-war group Justice not Vengeance, which initiated the plan, stressed that it would not involve trespass, but declined to elaborate.
There will be a big demonstration on the second day of Mr Bush's visit, as well as rallies and vigils around the country, and, organisers hope, school, college and workplace walkouts like those seen on the day that the war began.
But many events will focus on symbolism rather than mass participation. Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, will snub Mr Bush by holding an official reception for peace activists; while the Muslim Association of Britain has asked non-Muslims to join a dawn-to-dusk fast on November 20.
Most potent of all may be the presence of another American, Ron Kovic. The trip from California is challenging for the paralysed Vietnam veteran turned peace activist, but he said he was determined to join the protestst.
"This is about life and death. I can't help feeling - as many veterans do - that we are watching a replay of the Vietnamese war," said Mr Kovic, who is best known for his autobiography, Born on the Fourth of July.
"President Bush is going to London to represent a particular point of view on the war. I'm here to represent what war really is. I'm coming to represent the millions of people in my country who knew this war was wrong from the start."
Ready to protest
The official itinerary
"The programme is still not set," said a Buckingham Palace spokesman
The 'Unwelcome Bush' itinerary
Saturday, November 15
Rallies around the country, in Swindon, Newcastle and elsewhere, to alert the public to the upcoming visit
Sunday, November 16
Screening of Born on the Fourth of July, introduced by Ron Kovic, in London
Tuesday, November 18
Public rally in London with speakers including Tony Benn and George Galloway
Wednesday, November 19
"Alternative state procession" through London. Other protesters to follow Mr Bush. March to the US consulate in Edinburgh. Demonstrations in Cardiff, Sheffield and other cities. In Bristol, protesters will topple a statue of Mr Bush
Thursday, November 20
National demonstration in London organised by CND, Stop the War and the Muslim Association of Britain. Vigils in various cities
Friday, November 21
Mock trials of Mr Bush for war crimes in London and Edinburgh. "Goodbye George" concert in London
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