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Bush set for noisy reception in UK

By CNN's Peter Wilkinson

Mell Harrison, from Theatre of War, puts finishing touches to Bush statue.
Mell Harrison, from Theatre of War, puts finishing touches to Bush statue.

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LONDON, England (CNN) Tens of thousands of anti-war campaigners are preparing to give George W. Bush a noisy reception when he arrives on what is described as the first state visit to Britain by a U.S. president.

While Bush stays as a guest of Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace and holds meetings with Prime Minister Tony Blair, protesters angry over the official invitation are planning a series of marches and stunts during his three-day trip next week.

One of those will be the toppling of a statue of Bush from a plinth in Trafalgar Square in a symbolic aping of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by U.S.-led forces this year.

The six-meter (18-foot) papier-mache effigy is being built by Mell Harrison and her colleagues from peace group Theatre of War at her home in Suffolk, eastern England. It will later be painted bronze and transported to London.

However, she and many other activists are resigned to the fact that the president is unlikely to see any of the protests.

Harrison told CNN: "I think it would be fantastic if he actually realized that there was an opposition to him coming and to see that we can be creative with our protest too."

Although the demonstrations threaten to take the gloss of what White House officials hoped would be a triumphal visit, Bush maintained they would not faze him. (Full story)

The president hopes to meet the families of British soldiers killed in Iraq and said he would tell them their loved ones died fighting for a noble cause and that he grieves for their sacrifice.

"I am so pleased to be going to a country which says that people are allowed to express their mind. That's fantastic. Freedom is a beautiful thing," he told the Press Association.

"The fact that people are willing to come out and express themselves says I'm going to a great country."

Even before Airforce One touches down in Britain, complaints are being leveled at the police that the proposed route of one of the marches is being blocked to spare the president's embarrassment.

A Stop the War coalition activist prepares for next week's marches.
A Stop the War coalition activist prepares for next week's marches.

London's Mayor, left-winger Ken Livingstone, has called for an even-handed approach. "What we don't want to see is a repeat of the shameful exercise when the president of China came here in 1999 and the Metropolitan Police were requested by the Foreign Office ... to ensure that he didn't see the demonstrators," he said.

"I have to see demonstrators all the time and it's part of the great joy of politics -- and those police were actually breaking the law as they took those banners away. We're not having any of that."

Police have said they will cordon off Whitehall, which runs past the prime minister's residence in Downing Street, and Parliament Square itself, but say there will be no exclusion zone in the capital as some U.S. security officials are reported to be demanding.

"We're not going to stop pedestrian access to London -- London is open for business," said Andy Trotter, Deputy assistant commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police. "What we can't have is tens of thousands of demonstrators in Whitehall when Parliament is sitting."

But organizers of the Stop the War coalition, who are planning the main marches in the capital, are trying to get that decision reversed.

"I think the only problem will arise, and this is very, very serious, if they don't allow us to march past those two places," said Ghada Razuki from Stop the War.

"I think people will get very frustrated and very angry and will want to march to Downing Street because we know that's where George Bush and Tony Blair will be."

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