Beijing statesman greeted by jeers from protesters

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Pro-democracy supporters greeted the Vice-President of China, Hu Jintao, when he arrived in London yesterday for a five-day state visit.

Police attempted to keep Free Tibet campaigners and other demonstrators away from the Dorchester Hotel's entrance but there was no attempt made to keep them out of the statesman's view or pull down banners criticising the Chinese government.

A separate and equally noisy welcome by drum-banging pro-China supporters did not drown out the protest.

Mr Hu, 59, arrived from Moscow, where he began a five-nation tour that will give foreign leaders a chance to get to know the man expected to become China's next leader in 2003.

The demonstrations in London mirror those which took place when the Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, visited in 1999. That visit was dogged by high-profile opposition and accusations of politically motivated, heavy-handed policing.

Alison Reynolds, from the Free Tibet Campaign, said last night: "We would have been extremely disappointed if attempts were made to block us from Mr Hu's sight. We were moved on to the side street for what the police called 'security reasons', but we have no doubt our message got through."

Mr Ju's tour, including stops in France, Spain and Germany, is thought to be an effort to raise his profile before he is named leader of the Chinese Communist Party next year.

During his stay in Britain he will meet the Prime Minister and have an audience with the Queen. Mr Hu starts his itinerary today with a boat trip on the Thames to the Greenwich Royal Observatory before meeting Mr Blair at Downing Street.

He is due to fly to Edinburgh on Wednesday, where the First Minister Henry McLeish will host a dinner in his honour.

The Free Tibet and pro-democracy movements have pledged to stage peaceful demonstrations throughout the week. They say Mr Hu oversaw the imposition of martial law in Tibet and called for him to put his hard-line past behind him.

Protesters will call for Mr Blair to press Mr Hu to open unconditional negotiations with the Dalai Lama's Tibetan government in exile.

Ms Reynolds said: "Mr Hu was greeted enthusiastically by pro-China supporters in a welcome orchestrated by the Chinese embassy. But it is clear there is a tremendous volume of opposition against the Chinese treatment of Tibet.

"We do not want Tibet to be a casualty in securing China's unconditional support for the allied bombing in Afghanistan."