Jun 16, 2008
Inside apparently it was informal and relaxed, as George Bush arrived at Downing Street for a private dinner hosted by Gordon Brown and attended by Rupert Murdoch, a clutch of ministers and a mini-faculty of historians.
But out on the streets of Westminster, it was an edgier affair, as police in riot gear faced down protesters determined once again to voice their anger at the arrival in Britain of the US president.
Crowds often turn out in Britain for the farewell tours of famous American names and yesterday was no exception. Some 2,500 had gathered in Parliament Square hours before the big event was due to start, and there plenty of T-shirts and memorabilia on sale.
But despite non-stop chants of his name, the star of the show made no appearance in front of the crowds. The fact that the chants were "George Bush terrorist" and "Arrest George Bush" may have had something to do with it. Certainly the noise was loud enough to be heard above the polite conversation 200 yards away at 10 Downing Street.
The trouble began after a few cans and placards were lobbed over police lines. Several protesters were injured in the clashes and 25 were arrested. Protesters blamed the authorities for not allowing a letter to be handed in to Downing Street. Police blamed demonstrators for trying to dismantle barriers.
Numbers may have been fewer than those that greeted Bush on his November 2003 visit to London, when anger over the Iraq war was still raw. But every generation was represented yesterday, from babies wearing "Arrest Bush" stickers, to Tony Benn who left behind his parliamentary career to "spend more time in politics".
Before things turned ugly, the mood was vibrant. Whistles were blown, drums were banged, and some carried handcuffs on the off-chance that Bush might present himself for a citizen's arrest. "The war in Iraq was a war crime," said Benn. "Over 1 million Iraqis have died and the Americans are spending $400m a day on it while people are starving in Ethiopia." But nor was the past forgotten. A loudspeaker played Love is All You Need and one T-shirt read: "I still hate Thatcher."
(c) 2008 The Guardian
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