Rice brushes off anti-war protests threat

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Indy Politics

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today brushed off the threat of anti-war protests on her visit to the North West.

Ms Rice, who is visiting the region as the guest of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, said she had "no problem" with people expressing their democratic rights.

Anti-war campaigners have threatened to stage demonstrations throughout her stay, and a visit to a mosque in Mr Straw's constituency of Blackburn, Lancashire, has already been cancelled because of the threat of protests.

However, visiting the BAE Systems factory at Samlesbury, Ms Rice said: " I have no problem with people expressing their democratic rights."

Ms Rice said she was "not surprised" at the prospect of demonstrations, saying she had encountered similar protests in every city she had visited in the United States.

"It is part of the democratic process that if people have different views to express them.

"I think it is best if people have different views that they do express them and not bottle them up."

Ms Rice, with Mr Straw standing by her side, said she had found people to be "very friendly and very welcoming".

The factory visited by Ms Rice and Mr Straw is working on the Joint Strike Fighter project.

The programme has been dogged by controversy, with Britain threatening to pull out unless the US gives full access to its military secrets.

Ms Rice acknowledged that the differences remained outstanding.

"These issues are being worked out among friends," she said.

Parents protesting outside Pleckgate High School in Blackburn, which Ms Rice was also visiting, said they faced a dilemma about whether to send their children to school today.

Mother of five Rabiya Adam, 33, said she did not want her children to be "preached at" by Ms Rice.

She stood next to her two daughters, aged 13 and 12, waving banners.

"We are opposed to the visit because Condoleeza Rice is not welcome in our home town. She was behind all the killings in Iraq. When I found out she was coming here to speak to our children, I didn't want her to preach what she did in Iraq.

"My children are quite upset about the fact that the headteacher didn't consult us about the visit."

Arif Waghat, 47, a retail manager, said his 15-year-old daughter and son, 14, were at the maths and computing college today.

"I'm not going to let a couple of warmongers deprive my children of their education. My opposition is to the war. I'm basically a pacifist.

"I'm protesting against Mr Straw and Ms Rice and their warmongering."

As Ms Rice arrived at the school by a side entrance, protesters booed and shouted "Condoleezza Rice go home".

At the school Ms Rice met 16-year-old Jabbar Khan. He said Ms Rice had told him she was not enjoying the cold and cloudy English weather.

She also said she felt chilly because she had left her coat in Mr Straw's office.

"She said she doesn't like the weather. She said her home town in America is much warmer," said Jabbar.

He added that "lots" of his classmates had taken the day off school to join the protest outside.

"I think the protest is wrong because this school is a democratic school and we should be proud to have such a high profile visitor to our school," he said.