by Patrick Sawer / Evening Standard –
LONDON November 10, 2003) –White House security demands covering President George Bush’s controversial state visit to Britain have provoked a serious row with Scotland Yard. American officials want a virtual three-day shutdown of central London in a bid to foil disruption of the visit by anti-war protestors. They are demanding that police ban all marches and seal off the city centre.
But senior Yard officers say the powers requested by US security chiefs would be unprecedented on British soil. While the Met wants to prevent violence, it is sensitive to accusations of trying to curtail legitimate protest.
Met officers came in for heavy criticism when banners were torn down and demonstrators prevented from coming within sight of Chinese President Jiang Zemin during his visit in 1999. But with tens of thousands of protestors from around the UK set to join blockades and marches during the Bush trip, US officials are reportedly insisting on an “exclusion zone”. They say terrorists could use the crowds as cover to attack the President.
Secrecy surrounds his itinerary during the trip, which starts on 19 November. He will stay at Buckingham Palace and his staff want The Mall, Whitehall and part of the City closed. Besides provoking a civil liberties backlash, the Met fears such a move would cause traffic chaos and incur huge loss of business across the capital.
White House officials have already vetoed the traditional drive in an open carriage along the Mall. They fear it would make Mr Bush too vulnerable to attack or confrontations over British support for the US in Iraq.
Anti-war groups such as the Stop The War Coalition, and the Muslim Association of Britain, have made no secret of their wish to harass Mr Bush wherever he goes. But they insist they are only planning “non-violent direct action”.
Met Commissioner Sir John Stevens said his force was facing “a very tough” time over the visit, which will see the biggest security operation ever mounted in Britain. He told the Breakfast with Frost show a balance had to be struck between the President’s safety and protestors’ right to make their voices heard. “We are on the highest alert that we have ever worked at,” he said. “We are working two-and-a-half times harder than we did at the very height of the Irish terror campaign.”
The Yard has cancelled all leave for the three-day visit and mobilised 3,800 officers for the £4million security operation. Civil rights campaigners say they expect draconian anti-terror rules to be deployed, although Sir John has assured them marches will be allowed and they will be able to use Trafalgar Square. But the Met and the US Secret Service have reportedly agreed “rules of engagement” allowing Bush bodyguards to shoot anyone they believe is clearly threatening the life of the President.
©2003 Associated New Media
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