Fri, Nov 21, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Bush and Blair united as activists prepare to protest



As tens of thousands of anti-war protesters mobilize for a march on parliament, US President George W. Bush is standing in solidarity with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose approval ratings have sunk as many Britons oppose their country's role in Iraq.

While Bush celebrates the two countries' friendship as "one of the great alliances of mankind," many British deplore the war, and as many as 100,000 protesters were expected to show their discontent yesterday in a massive march.

On the second full day of his three-and-a-half-day visit to Britain, Bush laid a cream-colored wreath with a red, white and blue banner at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in a subdued ceremony yesterday at Westminster Abbey. The president, his wife Laura at his side, did not speak, only somberly bowing his head in prayer before the grave.

Later, he was to meet with relatives of 53 British soldiers and civilians killed since the start of the war -- the highest death toll of any American ally in Iraq.

"The armed forces of both our countries have taken losses, felt deeply by our citizens," Bush said in a speech on Wednesday. "Some families now live with a burden of great sorrow. We cannot take the pain away, but these families can know that they are not alone."

Bush also is trying to showcase a softer side of US foreign policy by convening a round-table gathering on American efforts to combat AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean.

Mostly though, the president is in London to show unity of purpose with Blair, whose approval ratings have slumped amid rising opposition to the Iraq war. The two leaders were to meet at No. 10 Downing St. and hold a news conference a short time later.

Blair faced tough questions about the war on Wednesday at the House of Commons, but did not back down from his support of the US.

"It really is about time we started to realize who our allies are, who our enemies are, stick with the one and fight the other," Blair added, to loud cheers from lawmakers.

An unidentified protester was ejected from the public gallery in the Commons after shouting, "He's a war criminal, he's a war criminal" just as Blair was discussing Bush's visit.

At the state dinner at Buckingham Palace, Bush won a strong endorsement from Queen Elizabeth II.

"You led the response to an unprovoked terrorist attack, which was on a scale never seen before," the Queen said, Bush nodding in agreement.

"And our troops have served side-by-side in Afghanistan and Iraq to lead the fight to restore freedom and democracy. Our two countries stand firm in their determination to defeat terrorism," she said.

During his visit, Bush hopes to turn the tide of public opinion in the UK and across Europe, where anti-war sentiment runs high.

Bush said the greatest danger facing Western democracies is weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists and dictators like former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

"If they gain the weapons they seek, they will kill by the millions and not be finished," Bush said. "The evil is in plain sight. The danger only increases with denial.

"Great responsibilities fall once again to the great democracies," he said. "We will face these threats with open eyes and we will defeat them."

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