Anti-war protest erupts in violence with 25 arrested during Bush visit

AN ANTI-WAR demonstration held yesterday to coincide with George Bush's farewell tour of London descended into violent clashes between protesters and police.

What began as a peaceful demonstration in Parliament Square yesterday afternoon flared into scuffles as protesters tried to force their way past blockades on to Whitehall.

The road was sealed off by police as the US president met the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, at Downing Street last night.

Officers lined up behind a metal barrier, striking demonstrators with batons as they surged forward.

Police last night said 25 people had been arrested.

One protester, Suzanna Wylie, 29, was left bleeding from a head injury after being hit by a baton. She had been linking arms with protesters at the front of the crowd, trying to stop demonstrators surging forward.

She said: "I've been on lots of demonstrations before and every one of the Stop the War demonstrations has been peaceful.

"This time because Bush is here, specifically because Bush is here, because of his own security arrangements, they won't let us demonstrate. If they let us demonstrate, there would have been none of this."

Mounted and riot police were brought in to control the crowd. The mood was tense as officers arrested individual protesters. Some demonstrators could be heard hurling abuse at police, while others were simply caught up in clashes.

One 17-year-old girl was held on suspicion of assaulting a police officer. Her friends said she has her A-level exams next week.

There were around 2,000 to 2,500 demonstrators in Parliament Square at the height of the protest, Scotland Yard said.

The president yesterday defended his decision to go to war with Iraq. "When anybody dies in a war, of course it weighs on my conscience," he said.

"On the other hand… getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do, and I'm not going to back off one inch," he said. "The world is better off without him, and I'm sorry that innocent civilians died in Iraq, but I want you to remember, hundreds of thousands died when Saddam Hussein was leading that country.

"War is brutal. I wish we didn't have war, but I believe we're now on the way to peace."

The president did, however, strike a note of contrition, expressing regret about his use of "Wild West language" in relation to Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks.

"I said 'dead or alive' right after September 11 – it's an unfortunate statement I made," he said.

Earlier, he and the First Lady, Laura, took afternoon tea with the Queen at Windsor Castle.

Talks between Mr Bush and Mr Brown today are expected to cover the continuing world economic crisis, rising fuel and food prices and attempts to persuade the oil-producing countries to step up production to ease the oil price.

The US leader will also have a meeting with the former prime minister, Tony Blair, in his role as Middle East representative for the Quartet – the UN, the EU, Russian Federation and the US.

Later today Mr Bush will travel to Stormont in Belfast and join Mr Brown for talks with the Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, and his deputy, Martin McGuinness.

Rare royal honour – and tea – for the president

GEORGE Bush is the first US president to be welcomed at the royal residence since Ronald Reagan was pictured riding at Windsor with the Queen in June 1982.

The Royal party were joined for tea yesterday by America's ambassador for Britain, Robert Tuttle, and his wife, Maria.

The group enjoyed traditional English afternoon fare of tea, small sandwiches and cakes, and the Queen, who wore a pink floral print dress, later gave the president and his wife a tour of some of the castle's state apartments.

They viewed a private exhibition of pictures, letters and other items relating to visits presidents have made to the UK and tours by the Queen and her father to the US.

The monarch last met Mr Bush during her state visit to the US in March last year. During the tour Mr Bush winked at her after making one of his most famous gaffes.

While delivering a speech on the White House lawn, he fluffed the date of his country's bicentenary and, as the crowd laughed, he turned to the sovereign and winked and then quipped: "She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child."

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