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Wednesday, October 20, 1999 Published at 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK

UK Politics

'No Jiang protest ban'

Jiang Zemin with the lord chancellor on Wednesday

The government has denied instructing the police to curb demonstrations during the official welcome for Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

BBC News' Nick Witchell: Government accused of kowtowing to Chinese president
When President Jiang rode up The Mall on Tuesday protesters were prevented from holding up banners and Tibetan flags and told demonstrations were banned in a royal park.

But human rights campaigners questioned why this obscure by-law had not been enforced when former prisoners of war protested when the Japanese emperor visited recently.

The prime minister's official spokesman on Wednesday confirmed that Foreign Office officials had met with police, but insisted no instructions had been given to quash protests.

[ image: Police stopped demonstrators from raising banners and flags]
Police stopped demonstrators from raising banners and flags
"The government doesn't suggest to police how they should handle a demonstration," he said.

"People are entitled to protest and they are protesting. You guys are more obsessed with image than we are."

The Liberal Democrat peer and chairman of the all-party parliamentary human rights group, Lord Avebury, condemned the police tactics during President Jiang's arrival ceremony.

"It is not for the government to say whether people should offend him or not," he said. "It is for people to express themselves freely in a democracy."

But Foreign Office Minister John Battle described the police actions as normal.

He said: "This visit is about more than human rights. It is about trade and other wider cultural exchanges."

The prime minister's spokesman stressed that Tony Blair would raise human rights concerns with President Jiang when they hold talks on Thursday, but said this would not be the defining point of their relationship.

A number of people were arrested for taking part in anti-China demonstration's during the state visit, with protesters complaining they had been prevented from expressing their views.

Anti-Jiang protests by the Thames

More protests followed the Chinese president on the second day of his trip to Britain, which started with a visit to the Millennium Dome by riverboat.

BBC News' Nicholas Witchell reports on the continuing protests
In contrast to a stifled protest around Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, protesters were allowed to demonstrate relatively openly as he boarded a barge to travel along the Thames.

Highlights of his trip to Greenwich, south east London, were seeing the dome and the observatory in the area.

[ image: Protests were allowed on the second day of the trip]
Protests were allowed on the second day of the trip
In the afternoon, President Jiang went to the Globe theatre to watch a rehearsal of Julius Caesar.

For the demonstrators, the greatest success came when a protester on a motorbike weaved his way into the president's motorcade.

He continued to make his protest for 15 seconds before police forced him to the ground.

President Jiang will later attend a banquet at London's Guildhall given by the Lord Mayor and Corporation of London. Candlelit vigils will be held outside.

Tushi Thuntsok, chairman of the Tibetan community in Britain, said President Jiang's presence in the UK was "outrageous".

He said: "Britain has shown that trade comes before ethics."

Inside the palace, 180 guests heard the Queen tell President Jiang in her official welcome speech: "We take great satisfaction in the much closer relationship between our two countries."

[ image: Jiang Zemin: The first Chinese head of state to visit Britain]
Jiang Zemin: The first Chinese head of state to visit Britain
The prime minister and the Prince of Wales, who has met the Dalai Lama, also attended the banquet.

But a tight security operation is marking the first visit to Britain by a Chinese head of state, as President Jiang is known to be extremely sensitive to criticism.

The Chinese foreign ministry has also warned the UK Government not to let protests over Tibet and China's human rights record overshadow the state visit, hinting these could damage bilateral trade ties.

But junior Foreign Office minister Baroness Scotland of Asthal said in a Lords written reply that the government would continue to urge the Chinese to enter into discussions with the Tibetan leader-in-exile.

She said talking to the Dalai Lama was the "only realistic solution" to the issue of the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

She said: "The prime minister will indeed raise the question of human rights in China, including Tibet".

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