LONDON - Thousands of protesters marched through central London and along the stately government thoroughfare of Whitehall Tuesday to within shouting distance of where U.S. President Donald Trump and his aides held a working lunch with their British counterparts at No. 10 Downing Street.
The U.S. leader’s state visit to Britain morphed from the pomp and pageantry of the first 24 hours, during which Trump attended a white-tie state banquet in his honor at Buckingham Palace hosted by Queen Elizabeth, to protest and hard-headed politics on the second day of his three-day visit — one many Britons have opposed.
According to a recent poll by YouGov and Queen Mary University of London, more than half of Londoners said they oppose Trump’s visit, with only 24% approving it.
On Monday, the banquet tables at Buckingham Palace overflowed with flowers, fruit, and wine from the monarch's own vineyard at Windsor, where Trump first met the queen a year ago.
A few hours after the state dinner, which included members of the royal family, aristocrats, diplomats, politicians and business leaders, anti-Trump protesters grabbed flat white coffees and made their way on an overcast and drizzly morning to Trafalgar Square for what they dubbed a "carnival of resistance" to Trump’s visit.
The protesters expressed opposition to a host of Trump policies, from his confrontation with Iran and China to his border and immigration policies.
Climate change and Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris climate accord figured prominently among the issues cited by the demonstrators. Many of the manufactured banners were produced by Trotskyite factions, the Socialist Worker’s Party and the Communist League.
Environmental groups, including the Friends of the Earth, made others. But most of the protesters, young and old, appeared nonaligned and came from different walks of life.
Many female protesters said they had decided to join the demonstration because of women’s rights.
Sitting on the steps leading up to Britain’s National Gallery, 20-year-old Londoner, Nikita, told VOA she’d decided to come because, “Trump is a misogynist, is a racist, he denies climate change. We don’t have time anymore. It is getting too late for everyone.”
Ella Johnson, a 24-year-old student, said she was at the protest because as a “gay woman, she needed to stand up to hate.” She added, “We can’t have him here with his views that would strip women, people of color and immigrants of their human dignity. It is a disgrace he is here, and anyone who facilitated will have a debt to cleanse on their soul.”
There were also smaller protests Tuesday in other British cities, including Edinburgh, Manchester, Belfast, Oxford, Birmingham, Glasgow and Exeter.
During Trump's visit to Britain last July, an estimated 250,000 people protested on the streets of central London. Organizers of Tuesday’s rally said they were expecting numbers much lower this time, likely under 100,000.
But the smaller numbers made up for it with noise.
"Let's show him what we think of his divisive, hateful policies,” said the Stop Trump Coalition, which organized the protest.
“Trump and his politics aren't welcome in the U.K.,” announced one of the organizers from the plinth of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. The crowd roared their approval as a samba band beat out a drum rhythm.
Anti-Trump protesters did not have the area to themselves. On Whitehall, as demonstrators marched and chanted toward Downing Street, pro and anti- Trump protesters clashed, including a group of more than a dozen Trump supporters, some wearing “Make America Great Again" baseball caps.
Police intervened and pulled the pro-Trump group into the nearby Lord Moon of the Mall pub for their own safety as cries of “Nazi scum off our streets” rang out.
Earlier, a lone pro-Trump protester and an opponent of the president held an impromptu debate in Trafalgar Square notable for its lack of aggression.
“I came to let Donald Trump know that not everybody hates him in England,” the 34-year-old supporter, who gave his name as John, told VOA. “I thought there would be a lot more protesters here,” he added.
During a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump dismissed reports of the protests.
“We left the prime minister, the queen, the royal family — there were thousands of people on the streets cheering. And then I heard there were protests and I said, ‘Where are the protests? I don’t see any protests.’ I did see a protest today, but very small. So, a lot of it is fake news.”