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2003-11-18

London in a State of "Virtual Siege" Ahead of Bush State Visit to UK

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Tens of thousands of demonstrators are expected to take to the streets of London in protest at Bush’s visit where some 14,000 police officers are on duty. We go to London to speak with a Telegraph reporter as well as an organizer with the Stop the War Coalition. [Includes transcript]

Click here to read to full transcript President Bush decided last night to cancel his planned speech to Parliament during his state visit to Britain because he feared being heckled by anti-war MPs.

Senior White House adviser Dr. Harlan Ullman told the UK Mirror: "It would have been a great photo-opportunity. But they were fearful it would to turn into a spectacle."

The decision to abandon the speech came as extraordinary security measures are placing London under a state of virtual siege ahead of Bush’s arrival today.

  • Colin Brown, political editor of Sunday Telegraph. He joins us from London.
  • Ghada Razuki, national organizer with Stop the War Coalition in London. They are organizing the biggest national protests in the UK throughout the week and on Thursday at Trafalgar Square where they will be pulling down a statue of George Bush.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: As we turn now to Britain. One of the largest policing operations in recent years is preparing to start in London to provide security for the state visit of President George Bush. President Bush begins his three-day visit tomorrow. He arrives the day before, participating in a private welcome at Buckingham Palace, and the plans are vast. Looking at a piece in the "Telegraph" of Britain, it says "One senior courtier told the 'Telegraph', 'They wanted blast and bulletproof windows, they wanted strengthened curtains and strengthening to the walls and the president's suite and other rooms that he would be spending time in during his two-day visit.’ " The proposal which would have meant substantial building alterations was firmly turned down by the queen, but anxiety levels among the Bush security team continue to grow. Buckingham Palace security pass holders are being ordered to go through bomb checks for the first time. Some palace staff who have had security clearance for 30 years are undergoing positive vetting again. One palace official said "The queen will not have to wear a security badge. I think we know what she looks like, but it’s getting to that level. It’s quite ridiculous." We are joined on the telephone right now by one of the protesters who is in Britain right now. We’re joined on the phone by Gahda. Welcome to democracy now!.

GAHDA RAZUKI: Hello, how are you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you tell us what’s happening, what are the plans for this protest?

GAHDA RAZUKI: Well, we’ve got a number of events taking place. But really the biggest protest is this Thursday, the 20th of November. Where we’re expecting the biggest demonstration that this country has ever seen during the week to walk through the streets of London to protest at George W. Bush’s attendance in this country. I do just want to say one thing — this is not anti-American. This is anti-George Bush. Our call is not with the American people, but with George W. Bush and his administration.

AMY GOODMAN: Gahda can you talk about who are those who are involved with the protest?

GAHDA RAZUKI: Well, our coalition is very, very broad, so for example, we’ve got young school children coming, we’ve had a woman of 90 phoning up saying she was coming, but what we’ve also got is a strong contingency of Americans that will be leading the demonstration, who will be carrying banners that say — "Proud of my country, ashamed of my president". So, there’s all types of people coming.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined on the telephone by Collin Brown, who is a reporter with the "Telegraph." has a piece in the paper called, "It was a Good Idea at the Time." Can you talk about the queen and the prime minister and the Blair Administration’s preparations for this visit Collin Brown?

COLLIN BROWN: Yes. The reason why it said that it was a good idea at the time is that I think Bush and Blair thought that in advance of the war that round about now, they could virtually have a victory parade in London. It clearly hasn’t turned out that way and what has happened is that the more Blair’s organization and Downing Street has somewhat distanced itself from the security aspects of this tour, the more the queen has gotten inundated. According to some of the contacts we’ve been speaking to, people inside the palace feel that the queen has been left to organize the security aspects of this visit. And I’ve spoken to people at the palace who say that the level of security that they’re having to undergo this week is ridiculous. it’s not been as high as this, even for President Putin from Russia, and that people who have been positively vetted 30 years ago are having to go through positive vetting again. They’re all having to go through bomb checks, even though they have got their own security passes through Buckingham Palace and one of them have said it’s getting so ridiculous. What do they expect, do they expect the queen to have her own security pass?

AMY GOODMAN: Collin Brown, what about the issue of U.S. security for President Bush asking for–is it diplomatic immunity? Immunity from prosecution?

COLLIN BROWN: This was for the president’s own security personnel we’re told that — he’s bringing an entourage of around about 700 people. Around about 2000, sorry 250 of those 700 people will be armed guards, in effect. And we understand that the whitehouse was speaking in unity for the 250 armed guards if they happen to fire and kill some of the protesters, the British Government refused to do that, but this week there will be an awful lot of armed people on the street. It is potentially dangerous for that reason. Quite apart from the raised level of security because of the possibility of an al Caeda attack.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the guards would have immunity from prosecution if they shot anyone?

COLLIN BROWN: Um, the white house is seeking immunity for the guards, and the metropolitan police and Scotland Yard refuse to allow that. Ministers have had to say no to the president’s men, if any of them use their weapons this week and let’s hope they don’t have are to, if they do, they will be brought before a court in London and they will have to face the law in the usual way. In addition to that, there will be armed British police, special units, because as you know, the British police are not routinely armed, so they will have to be covered by the same rules, and the royal visit, the — the part of the visit in which the president goes to the palace, that finishes on Friday morning. But then as the president goes to the prime minister’s constituency and it all starts again for a day up there. There’s more security and more protests in the northeast of England where the prime minister has his seat.

AMY GOODMAN: Gahda what about how the protesters are being dealt with?

GAHDA RAZUKI: Well, I’m glad to hear that the British government is not going to give them immunity if they shoot one of us. I mean I don’t remember the last time a protester has been shot. It’s absolutely ridiculous. The peaceful process which we’ve had six national demonstrations in the last year, 3 million people marching on those, seven arrests, and yet at the moment, we’re facing the awful fact that one of George Bush’s security people might shoot one of the protesters. Now, I do think it’s a bit of scare mongering as well. I think you know, they’ve been trying to dissuade people from coming on the demonstration. This is obviously not working. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous. I mean I’m amazed to hear that the queen, who has been put in this position, has had to — you know her, people are trying to sort out security because Tony Blair is trying to distance himself from this. I also understand that George Bush is bringing his own sniffer dogs.

Now quite frankly I think that’s a bit insulting we’ve got sniffer dogs in this country. They say that the protesters, some people say that the protesters are bringing disruption to London. I don’t know if your listeners know this, but George Bush’s entourage wanted the whole of the tube network in London to close down while he’s here which would have obviously caused massive disruption. That’s been refused as well. I just want to say that our protests will be there in large, large numbers. We’ll protest from a to b in the most peaceful way.

AMY GOODMAN: Some might say why does bush have to bring his own dogs to London. He has got his own poodle there. Many people in Britain have referred to the British Prime Minister in that way.

GAHDA RAZUKI: Yeah, they have. I mean, you know it, seems like we went to war with George Bush’s administration against, really, the wishes of the people of this country, and what have we gotten in return? I don’t think a single contract as yet has been issued to the British government in Iraq. I understand that George Bush might make a concession today. And you know, that’s two wars that we have gone along with and obviously it’s making Tony Blair not a popular person in this country. The people of this country I feel are getting very, very angry that whatever George Bush says, Tony Blair jumps. And so, this caricature of a poodle is a fitting one.

AMY GOODMAN: Gadha, we have this latest news, Ken Livingston, the mayor of London, launched a stinging attack on President Bush last night denouncing him as quote "The greatest threat to life on this planet that we’ve most probably ever seen".

GAHDA RAZUKI: Yes well Ken, I’m not sure if your listeners are aware, will be hosting a reception for American peace protesters tomorrow night. That’s Wednesday evening. And you know, there’s been a lot of accusations thrown at the protesters about violence on the protest. The way we see it, is that this man, who we believe is one of the most dangerous people who has caused two wars, who has killed 8,000 people in Afghanistan, killed 10,000 people in Iraq, whose own troop’s lives he is putting at risk as we speak. I mean it’s awful when we hear about the American soldiers that are being killed now on a daily basis out there. When we are throwing accusations of violence, we would be throwing it at George W. Bush.

AMY GOODMAN: Livingston recalled a visit at Easter to California where he was denounced for an attack he had made on what he called the most corrupt and racist American administration in over 80 years. He said some U.S. journalists came up to me and said "How you can say this about President Bush?" Well, I think what he said then was quite mild, the Mayor of London continued. He said, I actually think that Bush is the greatest threat to life on this planet that we have most probably ever seen, the policies he is doing now will do much for extinction.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the statue in Trafalgar Square tomorrow?

GAHDA RAZUKI: Sorry, can you repeat the last bit, please.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the statue, your plans for a statue in Trafalgar Square?

GAHDA RAZUKI: Oh, Yes. We have built a statue which is being delivered actually within the next hour, that’s three times the size of George W. Bush and we’ve got a pink tank made out of paper maiche and that will topple the statue of George W. Bush. And I just want to add this to that: when Saddam’s statue, a regime that obviously we didn’t support in the coalition, when Saddam’s statue was toppled by what is now known to be a couple of hundred of Iraqis and the American troops, we will have 100,000-plus people toppling George Bush’s statue and that’s the event that most our people and certainly most of the press are looking forward to Thursday.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Thursday. Colin Brown, of the "Sunday Telegraph." Your paper is a conservative newspaper. You find yourselves it seems now having unusual allies in a mass protest movement in Britain. Is that true?

COLLIN BROWN: I don’t think that there is a view here that there is an unusual ally in this. The question to the protesters has to be surely, it’s better to have the difficulties on the ground without Saddam than have the Saddam Regime still in place I mean We hear from Ken Livingston these extreme views about bush, but what were his views about the Saddam Regime we don’t hear very much about the bodies of the 350,000 people they have discovered in graves when the troops went in. So, there has to be a bit of perspective on this, but from the point of view of the Prime Minister Blair, there’s no doubt that Blair is taking a hit in supporting Bush in this way and that the way that the protests are going this week, it will be quite damaging for not only George Bush, but also the prime minister. And I think that the issue for conservative newspapers, I mean the conservative newspapers made be conservative, but it doesn’t mean to say that we record this any differently. The point of view from the conservative press, I think, is that it’s all right to protest, but these protesters have actually — are using the democratic rights. It has to be remembered that this is what Bush is saying he’s fighting for, he’s fighting for the rights for such people to make their protests.

AMY GOODMAN: How much money is being spent on the British police and the security force, and how many will be out there for President Bush?

COLLIN BROWN: Well it’s going to be — it’s going to run into millions. The protesters have won a significant battle in their negotiations in that they have been able to march along Whitehall right outside Downing Street. All of that will have to be policed. I should think that there will be a policeman virtually every yard of the long march they’re going to make to Parliament Square and then off to Trafalgar Square for the toppling of this statue of Bush. I think that as the bill will come to — several millions of pounds, nobody is quite sure how much, and the number of police will be on the streets has increased from an estimated 5,000 to probably 14,000 shifts–that doesn’t mean to say 14,000 people on the streets from the police, but certainly the time they’re going to spend is the equivalence of 14,000 policemen which is absolutely enormous. So there is a big cost, but they’re just going to have to bear the cost.

AMY GOODMAN: Gahda Razuki, in terms of the police, how they’re dealing with protesters in the U.S., increasingly, they have moved toward pens, cordoning people off. What is going to be the strategy in Britain right now in London?

GAHDA RAZUKI: Right, just before I come on to that, I just want to say something — referring to something that he said earlier on. Just to inform your listeners that when people like Rumsfeld were selling arms to Saddam Hussein and chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein, myself as an Iraqi was demonstrating outside the Iraqi embassy against the regime of Saddam Hussein. And standing next to me were two people out of the many hundreds. One of them was George Galloway and one was Ken Livingston. So, that’s where Ken Livingston stands on the regime of Saddam Hussein.

In terms of how the police will treat the protesters. I want to make one thing very clear, the relationship with the police has always been very, very good. We’ve always managed to reach a satisfactory agreement to the routes that we wanted. And the reason why we wanted this route is not because we were trying to be difficult, but because our supporters wanted to march past Parliament and Whitehall, which is where the decisions are made, the political decisions are made in this country. Now, they’re not going to be able to have a police officer every yard on the demonstration, because the demonstration will be far too big. And also the police, very kindly allow us to steward our own demonstration. They understand that we know our people better. As far as we’re concerned, the agreement that we have with the police is as per every other demonstration, we’re marching from a to b, we’re stewarding it. Obviously there will be a police presence there, but we don’t expect a very heavy one.

AMY GOODMAN: Ghada Razuki, I want to thank you for being with us, from Stop the War, the largest peace coalition in Britain. I also I want to thank Colin Brown with the "Sunday Telegraph." The piece this Sunday, "It was a good idea at the time," about the Bush visit to Britain. You are listening to Democracy Now!


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