Union Tribune

November 19, 2003

Protests threaten to overshadow Bush speech


LONDON President Bush began his visit to London last night determined to lay out his vision for a peaceful Europe working with the United States to spread democracy across the world.

But two conflicting scenarios greeted the president and first lady Laura Bush. The welcome they received from Prince Charles last night and Queen Elizabeth II this morning symbolized the enduring strength of Anglo-American ties at a time when almost 11,000 British troops serve alongside U.S. forces in Iraq.

The second scenario, in the form of protesters gathered in Britain's capital to demonstrate against Bush's policies in Iraq, the Middle East and elsewhere, spoke louder than anything said by members of the royal family.

The largest security force assembled in London since World War II is bracing for up to 110,000 protesters at scheduled rallies throughout Bush's four-day visit.

White House efforts to keep the demonstrations far from Bush's line of vision have failed, and it is likely Bush will be able to hear the angry chants as he heads to his meetings in London with Prime Minister Tony Blair, his primary war ally.

Blair's unwavering support for U.S. policies in Iraq has cost him politically at home and weakened his grip on the Labor party, but he remains loyal to Bush. Earlier this week, Blair appealed to Britons who support Bush's visit to raise their voices to offset the protests.

Bush's advisers have made clear that the president hopes to accomplish more than consultations on Iraq during his trip. To that end, he will use what the White House is billing as a major address on post-Iraq foreign policy.

During a speech today at Whitehall Palace in London's main government district, Bush will try to dispel popular perception of him in Britain as quick to go to war, said a senior administration official who briefed reporters aboard Air Force One.

The official said Bush will make a strong statement of support for multilateral institutions and alliances. He will argue that he is reluctant to use military force.

Bush will be making his case to a skeptical jury a European public that sees him as a cowboy caricature, a leader given to unilateral policies.

Yesterday, protesters gathered outside the houses of Parliament and maintained a vigil, which was led by a financial administrator armed with a loudspeaker and a strong conviction that the Iraq war was illegal and wrong.

"It's important that it be seen that not everybody here was supporting the war," said Justine Fernandes, 23, who has demonstrated in London almost every night since the war began in March.

"This is not the hard left. It is not anti-Americanism," said Fernandes, who lived in San Diego until age 4 and whose father, a retired member of the British navy, still lives there. "It's a lot of regular people."