London (CNSNews.com) - A crowd estimated in the tens of thousands tore down a "statue" of President Bush in London's Trafalgar Square Thursday in an event intended to mirror the toppling of a Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad after U.S. troops rolled into the city.
Although they didn't disrupt talks between President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, the anti-war protesters slowed down most of central London.
Protest organizers said 200,000 people showed up, while police said the numbers were closer to 70,000. Local news reports put the number at about 150,000.
Although authorities reported no major trouble as the protesters marched past the Houses of Parliament and Blair's Downing Street residence, the city's Metropolitan Police Department said that 50 arrests for minor offenses have been made this week in connection with demonstrations against the president's visit.
A number of protesters said they were marching to express their anger at the policies of the Bush administration. They cited everything from the Kyoto treaty to Guantanamo Bay, but opposition to the war in Iraq was the one issue that all demonstrators seemed to agree on.
One man near the center of the protest was passing out biblical literature and said that the president "isn't a true Christian."
"I believe in turning the other cheek and loving your enemies," said the man, who identified himself as "Jude."
"If George Bush was really a Christian, he'd love Saddam Hussein," the man said.
Marchers carried signs with slogans such as "Stop the organ grinder and his monkey" - with accompanying pictures of Bush and Blair - and "End the occupation of Iraq." At least 100 Americans joined the protests, according to Rebecca Rufener of the Expats Against Bush group.
"The fact that we're here shows that not all Americans are for Bush," said Rufener, a Los Angeles native who said that the group includes Democrats, Republicans and independents. "It's not about being anti-American. We want to get Bush out of office."
Protester Jo Smith accused Bush and Blair of only "paying lip service to democracy."
"Where's the democracy for Palestine?" asked Smith, who described herself as Jewish. "The land of the Palestinians has been taken away, and we want people to see what's happening there."
Smith said she was marching not only against the U.S. administration, but also against her own leaders.
"This is also about Blair supporting a right-wing government," Smith said.
Security concerns have kept Bush away from public appearances in London, but the president has acknowledged the protesters.
Bush joked about the protests in a speech Wednesday, and responding to a question during an earlier joint press conference with Blair, Bush said that freedom of speech was a "fantastic thing."
"I fully understand that people don't agree with war," the president said. "I hope they agree with peace and freedom and liberty."
Londoners along the route of the march had a variety of responses to the protesters, ranging from bemusement to support.
One newspaper hawker who expressed sympathy with the demonstrators said he didn't believe Blair's assertion that terrorists, rather than allied military action in Iraq, caused Thursday's bombings against British targets in Istanbul.
While doing a brisk business outside a subway station, the man pointed to a massive headline in the London Evening Standard : "Britons Die in Al Qaeda Bombings."
"If Blair and Bush want to play the war game, these are the results of it," the man said.
(CNSNews.com's Susan Jones contributed to this article.)
See Related Story:
Why Do People Hate You? Reporter Asks Bush (Nov. 20, 2003)
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.