Fortress London welcomes careful tourists

Clouds, concrete fail to deter bank holiday visitors
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The prospect of concrete walls going up to defend some of London's leading landmarks from terrorist attack failed to deter thousands of tourists from descending on the capital yesterday.

Despite fears of the city turning into "Fortress London" after the construction of a 4ft-high wall around the Houses of Parliament on Friday to thwart suicide truck bombers, it was business as usual on a sunny Saturday. More concrete walls are planned for more tourist landmarks, according to senior Whitehall sources, but nobody is saying specifically where.

Following the recent wave of bombings in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, and the public threat from a leading al-Qa'ida figure last week, Britain is now officially on its second highest alert; a status that can only be increased if intelligence is received on the specific time, place or target for a terrorist attack. But tourists were not put off yesterday.

Outside the Houses of Parliament, the Moore family from Prince's Risborough, Bucks, had stopped for a rest on the buildings' new ungainly cement fortifications during a leisurely stroll around the capital.

"We just thought we'd have a look around town in the sunshine," said Michael, 42, who had travelled to London with his wife Carol and son Stephen, 12. "We're going to walk down to the London Eye, then on to the Imax cinema, and probably have an ice cream or two on the way. We intend to make the most of it." Stephen also seemed non-plussed about the perceived threat to London. "The concrete blocks? They're good for sitting on," he grinned, dangling his legs a few inches from the ground as a police officer looked on.

Nearby, Amanda Short, 20, and her sister Ashley, 17, both from Kalamazoo, Michigan, were taking photographs. "Our parents were a bit nervous about me flying here," Ashley said, "but I knew it was the chance of a lifetime, so I wasn't going to pass it up just because they were worried." Amanda added: "I guess these blocks are kind of ugly, but I don't think they take away from the beauty of Westminster - you just have to lift your camera up a bit to keep them out of the picture."

At the other end of Whitehall, Trafalgar Square was bustling with tourists as usual. Kevin Dowling from Brisbane, Australia, said the threat of potential terrorist attacks "hadn't even crossed my mind" when he decided to visit London. "You can see cops around every corner and you feel very safe," Mr Dowling, 30, said.

But traders had a different story to tell. Jegan Thambirajah, the manager of Crest Trading Ltd, a large souvenir shop just off Trafalgar Square, said that trade had been hit badly by political and international developments over the past few months.

"It seems the terrorist threat and the war itself have been affecting business," Mr Thambirajah said. "The Americans have started coming back now, but it's usually much busier than this on a May bank holiday weekend."

Nevertheless there was a large crowd of tourists from all corners of the globe clustered around the gates to Buckingham Palace. Ulf Daude, from Hamburg, Germany, was leading a party of school children on a week-long visit to the UK.

"We planned this trip before the war but I still feel really safe being here," Mr Daude, 30, said. "There is no point worrying about these things. Even at home you could go outside your front door and the roof could fall on your head."