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Bush to find warmth, antagonism in London
( 2003-11-18 16:47) (AP)

U.S. President Bush is joining with America's staunchest ally in the war in Iraq for a state visit that promises contrasting pictures of elegant ceremonies at Buckingham Palace and noisy street protests by thousands of anti-war demonstrators.

American author Ron Kovic, who was paralyzed during the Vietnam War and wrote the anti-war book 'Born on the 4th of July' which was later made into a film starring Tom Cruise, sits outside Number 10 Downing Street in London Nov. 17, 2003. Kovic was part of a group that handed in a 100,000 signature petition, opposing the visit of U.S. President George Bush to Britain later this week.  [AP]
Bush says he'll use the three-day visit to confront widespread doubts in Britain and across Europe about the war, which has 9,000 British forces in Iraq, the largest non-American force in the coalition.

On the eve of his trip, Bush said American troops now numbering about 130,000 in the country aren't about to leave. He delivered his promise to a visiting Iraqi delegation in Washington, then said: "When they hear me say we're staying, that means we're staying."

Bush and his wife, Laura, will receive a quiet welcome Tuesday evening from Prince Charles. They will fly by helicopter to Buckingham Palace where a royal welcome will be staged Wednesday morning by Queen Elizabeth II. The heart of his visit will be talks with his chief war ally, Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The official embrace of the American president belies deep suspicions among ordinary Britons about the war in Iraq, and broad hostility toward Bush.

Some 1 million Britons protested in a single day in February, before the war, and opposition has grown along with the toll of coalition deaths.

More than 50 Britons have died in Iraq. Recent polls show a clear majority of British voters think Bush was wrong on Iraq and regard Blair's closeness to the president as bad for Britain.

A member of the Stop the War organization prepares signs in London ahead of massive street protests planned during US President George W. Bush 's state visit to Britain.  [AFP]
Mass protests are promised against Bush, the kind he is not accustomed to seeing in his travels through the United States, where demonstrators are often kept well away from him. Also, a majority of Americans still believe the United States made the right decision to go to war against Iraq.

Organizers of a march expect to draw as many as 60,000 people Thursday, and they scored a victory Monday when police said protesters could pass by the Houses of Parliament and Blair's office. Earlier, police had refused to allow the march to go through London's main government district.

Bush made plain in a series of interviews with British journalists that he is not backing down, and he will try to remind the British that they have a stake in the war. As part of the effort to court British public opinion, Bush gave a personal guided tour of the Oval Office to British journalists last week.

"I intend to lead our nation, along with others like our close friends in Great Britain, to win this war on terror," Bush told the BBC.

Bush is trying to tap into the outpouring of empathy and support that the British displayed after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

A military band played the U.S. national anthem at an unprecedented changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace two days after the attacks, ordered by the queen. Thousands of British supporters stood eight deep at Buckingham Palace's front gates and lined the road to the queen's main residence.

A different scene awaits Bush this week, one that suggests a dramatic shift in the tide of public opinion.

Demonstrators plan to pull down a statue of Bush made of papier mache and chicken wire, to parody the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad.

The demonstrations began well ahead of Bush's visit. A woman scaled a gate at Buckingham Palace Monday, unfurling an upside-down American flag in protest, while Ron Kovic, an American veteran of the Vietnam War and peace activist, delivered an 85,000-signature petition asking Blair to cancel Bush's visit.

Blair addressed a joint session of Congress in July and gave an impassioned defense of the Iraq war. Bush will not address Parliament during his visit. Such a speech could invite the kind of heckling the president received when he spoke to the Australian Parliament last month.

 
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