Security so tight even Putin aides are locked out

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Indy Politics

Police in Edinburgh mounted an intensive security operation yesterday for the first official visit to the Scottish capital of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

Four days after an Osama bin Laden lookalike gatecrashed Prince William's birthday party at Windsor Castle, Borders and Lothian were determined to avoid the possibility of another entertainer staging a similar stunt.

Edinburgh Castle was cordoned off by a sea of luminous police jackets as three pipers played "Scotland the Brave" to Mr Putin and his wife, Lyudmilla, when they arrived at the start of a short tour of the city.

Beneath a portrait of Russia's last tsar, Nicholas II, who was made Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Scots Greys by Queen Victoria in 1895, the visiting delegation was entertained by a display of dancing by local children. Outside the castle walls, security men mingled with the small crowd of foreign tourists who stopped to watch the cavalcade as it travelled the few hundred yards from Edinburgh Castle to the Signet Library in Parliament Square to address leading public figures.

So tight was the security that members of Mr Putin's entourage, the staff of Jack McConnell, the First Minister, and at least one well-known Scottish television presenter were barred from the library despite holding official security passes. "I've been told to let nobody through," said one officer on the gate. "After what happened earlier this week, nobody is willing to take the slightest chance."

Mr McConnell welcomed the President, who asked to visit Edinburgh because of the contribution of Scottish architects in 18th-century Russia, by claiming that his visit "clearly demonstrates that the post-devolution profile of Scotland has dramatically increased".

Mr Putin replied by telling the audience he had been eager to visit the country as he felt "at home here. I have warm memories of the direct, straightforward and open culture of Scots," said Mr Putin, who made a private to Edinburgh eight years ago. "There is a great similarity here with my people." He said such similarities could be the reason he had found such "understanding" with the Edinburgh-born Prime Minister and another Scot, the Nato secretary general, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen.

Mr Putin said problems facing the world, such as ethnic conflict, organised crime, terrorism, epidemics and weapons of mass destruction, were best responded to through solidarity, although he admitted there had been "problems" with that solidarity before the Iraq war. "Russia's position on the Iraqi problem is well known. It has not changed and events have shown that our position was well advantaged," he said, adding that any differences of opinion were not important enough to bring "the world back to crisis".

The delegation swept through the cobbled streets of Edinburgh to Holyroodhouse Palace where Mr Putin, his wife and the Duke of York ate a lunch of Scottish salmon and lamb. The only security scare occurred as Mr Putin's entourage entered Holyroodhouse and a protester threw himself in front of the President's car, shouting slogans against the war in Chechnya. He was wrestled to the ground by police and taken away.

Mr and Mrs Putin then travelled to London for a banquet at Guildhall in the City.

The Lord Mayor, Gavyn Arthur, raised a smile when he told Mr Putin that the last time a Russian head of state was entertained at Guildhall, on 18 May 1874, Tsar Alexander II had to endure a banquet of 22 courses, including seven puddings. "Tonight is a celebration of the friendship between the United Kingdom and Russia and a celebration of the confidence we have in Russia's future, following the economic resurgence of the last few years," he said.