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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

50,000 Protesters March on London

LONDON -- Amid chants, the blast of airhorns and the beat of drums, tens of thousands of antiwar activists marched in London Thursday to let U.S. President George W. Bush know of their opposition to U.S.-British policies in Iraq. Protesters set off from the University of London on a route passing Parliament and the prime minister's residence to Trafalgar Square.

At least 50,000 people set off on a march that took almost two hours to clear its starting point. Several thousand more protesters gathered in Trafalgar Square ahead of the march. The chief steward of the march, Chris Nineham, predicted at least 100,000 people would join in and "bring this city to a halt."

Opposition to the invasion of Iraq has been strong and vocal in Britain, and many people are angry that Prime Minister Tony Blair took the country into the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein.

Hundreds of thousands of Britons demonstrated against the war, with the largest protest, in February, attracting about 1 million.

"I doubt we'll achieve much today but at least I'll have registered my protest," said Brother Oswin, who was wearing the brown robe and sandals of the Catholic Society of St. Francis. He said it was his first protest march.

Police said the heavy security deployed for Wednesday's scattered protests against the president's state visit would again be in place for the march, which began hours after deadly bomb attacks on British targets in Istanbul, Turkey. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Trotter of London's Metropolitan Police said the Turkish attacks, which officials quickly blamed on al-Qaida, "underlines the need for such high-level security." He said more than 5,000 officers would be on duty in the capital Thursday.

Police said about 50 people had been arrested since the start of the visit on charges that included theft, drunkenness and drug possession. Trotter said he expected the march to be peaceful but that a small minority of hard-core activists could attempt to cause violence.

"A number of well-known faces are about and we won't be at all surprised if they tried some sort of concerted action later today," he said.

As marchers chanting, "George Bush, terrorist," made their way through a business district, a few scuffled with three Bush supporters holding U.S. flags and a sign saying, "Support America." Police quickly intervened and bundled the trio into a nearby office building.

"I think it's a disgrace that these people are basically siding with Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida," said one of the three, Londoner Robert Temple. "Where were they when [former Romanian dictator Nicolae] Ceausescu came to town and why aren't they protesting against the people who blew up Turkey today?"

But some protesters said U.S.-British policy in Iraq was helping fuel terrorist attacks. "It wouldn't have happened without Iraq. ... America is creating their own terrorists," said Ziggy Dlabal, a German sociologist who lives in London.

"It is ridiculous," said Betty Gallaccio, 13, who was attending the march with her father. "Bush is coming over here and placing us all in danger from terrorists and we have to pay for it."

The protests, which have been brewing for weeks, did not appear to faze the president, who has said repeatedly that he appreciates the freedom of expression that permits such demonstrations. "Freedom is beautiful," the president said Thursday, adding he was happy to be in a country where people were allowed to speak their minds freely. "All I know is that people in Baghdad weren't allowed to do this until recent history."

Gillian Siddons, a cook from Auchenblae, Scotland, was already protesting Thursday morning. She stood near Westminster Abbey, where Bush laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, wearing a sign saying "Who Wants Democracy Bush-Style?"