An “unprecedented” security operation is under way ahead of President Bush’s state visit to Britain. Police say they have increased the number of officers on duty to 14,000 for the three days and hundreds of US special agents are already in the UK. Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Monday he strongly believes it is the right time for Mr Bush to visit. The Stop the War Coalition is meeting the police to discuss Thursday’s march involving tens of thousands of people.
Responding to suggestions the visit was ill-timed, Mr Blair said: “Now is the right moment for us to stand firm with the US in defeating terrorism wherever it is.
“Now is not the time to waver, now is the time to see it through.”
The heightened state of security has seen extra police at ports and airports and checking people arriving on Eurostar trains from France.
Scotland Yard is in overall charge of security for Mr Bush’s visit – which begins on Tuesday – and on Monday said it had increased from 5,000 to 14,000 the number of officers it will have on the streets during the visit.
Mr Bush will also be protected by hundreds of armed guards from the US.
They will not be granted diplomatic immunity, and will be subject to the British legal system if they shoot anybody, the Home Office has promised.
Mr Bush has shrugged off the prospect of protests, saying he supports free speech and expects the trip to be “fantastic”.
There is currently a stand-off between the police and the Stop the War Coalition over which roads can be included in the march.
The coalition insists protesters should be allowed through Whitehall and close to the Houses of Parliament, although that seems unlikely.
Stop The War Coalition said they believed some recent terrorism warnings could be propaganda aimed at stopping protesters from attending.
A group spokesman said: “It appears to be a lot of smoke signals at the moment but I wonder if these are the same intelligence people who warned about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”
Charles Kennedy, leader of the UK’s third largest party the Lib Dems, urged protesters to “use the opportunity to leave the president in no doubt as to the extent of public concern… about the way in which events tragically have unfolded”.
He said he would be “expressing the anxieties” about the war felt by himself, his party and others in a meeting with the president.
He said he hoped there would not be a “draconian response” by the police to the demonstrations, as was seen during the visit to London by Chinese President Jiang Zemin three years ago.
Other protests are planned for the state visit.
On Tuesday, the day Mr Bush and his wife arrive in London, a Stop Bush rally will be held near Euston Station.
On Wednesday, when the president is due at Buckingham Palace, there will be an “alternative state procession” including a Big Red Peace Bus. George Bush told Sir David Frost he would not be shaken from his mission in Iraq London Mayor Ken Livingstone is holding a peace party in City Hall on Wednesday, attended by many groups opposed to the war in Iraq.
Mr Bush said in a BBC interview with Sir David Frost on Sunday he was unfazed by the planned protests.
“I understand you don’t like war, and neither do I.
“But I would hope you understand that I have learned the lessons of 11 September 2001, and that terrorists declared war on the United States of America and war on people that love freedom.”
He later added he expected to enjoy the trip.
“I’m really looking forward to it, it’s going to be a fantastic experience,” he said.
PRESIDENT BUSH’S ITINERARY
Tuesday 18 November – Arrives and receives private welcome at Buckingham Palace Wednesday 19 November – Meets Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy, gives speech on transatlantic alliance and meets UK families of 11 Sept victims before attending royal banquet with Queen Thursday 20 November – Meets British soldiers who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, holds meetings with Tony Blair at Downing Street and hosts dinner at US Ambassador’s residence Friday 21 November – Travels to Tony Blair’s Sedgefield constituency to meet members of the public before returning to Washington