Demonstrations against leader will not be suppressed, says Blair

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Indy Politics

Mr Blair batted away questions about a repeat of the police tactics which marred the first ever state visit of a Chinese president when Mr Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin, made an official trip to Britain six years ago.

The Prime Minister insisted: "People are perfectly entitled to wear Free Tibet T-shirts or anything else. We live in a free, democratic country ... Of course people are perfectly free to say whatever they want to say."

The words indicated a determination to avoid the bad headlines that accompanied the pomp of President Jiang's three-day visit to London in 1999 that led to claims of police heavy-handedness. Conservatives have demanded that there be no repeat of the scenes that surrounded Mr Jiang's visit to Britain in 1999

Then MPs complained of "unprecedented suppression" of pro-Tibet and human rights campaigners. While Mr Jiang enjoyed visits to the Globe Theatre, Greenwich and Cambridge and ate a Chinese meal at No 10 cooked by Ken Hom, the visit was overshadowed by the bitter row over demonstrators.

Two Chinese dissidents were arrested for demonstrating outside the President's hotel.

Then three protesters were arrested during the President's traditional carriage ride down The Mall. Two pro-democracy banners were unfurled but were immediately confiscated. Several demonstrators were also involved in scuffles with police including the exiled dissident Wei Jingsheng.

A Tibetan campaigner rode his bicycle in front of Mr Jiang's limousine in the Strand, waving the Tibetan flag before he was wrestled to the ground by police.

Sir Paul Condon, then Metropolitan Police commission answered claims of Government interference resulting in police parking vans in front of demonstrators to block President Jiang's view of them. The police response drew angry responses from opposition MPs, forcing Downing Street and the Foreign Office to deny attempting to influence the policing.

The rows overshadowed the talks between Mr Jiang and Mr Blair and £2.2bn worth of trade agreements.

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