Met says it will not shield Bush from protests

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President George Bush will not be shielded from "embarrassing" anti-war and anti-American protesters during his three-day state visit to Britain, Scotland Yard said last night.

Sir John Stevens, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, insisted that he had not come under any pressure from the American Secret Service to hide demonstrators or set up an exclusion zone around the President.

But the Met admitted that streets and several areas of central London will be closed to traffic during President Bush's visit and that a protest march will be prevented from demonstrating along Whitehall and outside Parliament. An unprecedented security operation is being put into place to protect the President, his wife Laura, and their entourage, during the first state visit by a US President to Britain.

The Met, the City of London Police and British Transport Police will use up to 5,000 officers to protect President Bush from any possible terrorist attack or violent demonstration from anti-war protesters.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Trotter, when asked whether the police would try to keep protesters away from the President, said that "lawful demonstrations" would be allowed and that "there will be no intention from us to spare anyone's embarrassment". He added: "He [the President] could quite easily come into contact with demonstrators."

President Bush and his wife will be staying at Buckingham Palace during his visit, which will be restricted to a small number of sites in central London, including Downing Street and Westminster Abbey.

A final decision on whether he will travel to Mr Blair's Sedgefield constituency with the Prime Minister has yet to be taken. Between 60,000 and 70,000 people are expected to take part in a national anti-war march through London on Thursday, President Bush's third day in the capital. Mr Trotter said that other groups, such as anarchists, are also planning demonstrations throughout the city.

He denied media reports that the Met had come under pressure from the Americans to implement tighter restrictions on demonstrators. He said: "There has been absolutely no pressure whatsoever about the style of policing."

During trips from Buckingham Palace, the President's cortège will be heavily protected by armed officers and his route will be closed to traffic and large-scale demonstrations.

The Met said it has learnt lessons following the state visit of the Chinese President, Jiang Xemin, in 1999, when the police were criticised for confiscating protest banners and using vans to screen off demonstrators.

Mr Trotter admitted that the visit probably posed a greater security threat than previous presidential trips by Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, because of the new threat from al-Qa'ida. He said: "Who knows what a terrorist looks like and there is always the possibility of the danger of people hiding among demonstrators." All his armed officers would be on duty.