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Bush revels in State welcome

20th November 2003

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Under a slate grey sky, and within the relatively safe confines of Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II yesterday offered US President George W Bush a spectacular state welcome to Britain complete with brass band, grenadier guards in bearskin hats and a 41-gun salute.

The 30-minute event in the forecourt of the queen's official London residence was awash with pomp and circumstance.

It took place amid unprecedented security - with police snipers on the palace rooftops and helicopters flying overhead - for the first ever formal state visit to Britain by a US president.

Due to security concerns, Bush was denied one traditional feature of a British state welcome - a ride with the queen down The Mall to the palace in a horse-drawn Victorian carriage.

A 41-gun salute, fired at 10-second intervals by the Royal Horse Artillery from nearby Green Park, thundered as Bush exited the palace's swish Belgian Suite - where he and First Lady Laura Bush had spent the night - and got into his own bomb-proof Cadillac limousine.

It proceeded at a crawl's pace for all of 100 m to the palace forecourt, rolling across specially-scattered red gravel, coming to a halt in front of a marquee specially erected for the occasion.

Bush, in a crisp suit and blue tie, and the first lady, wearing a blue twin-suit, shook hands with the queen and her husband Prince Philip, before they were introduced to Prime Minister Tony Blair and other dignitaries.

They included Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Home Secretary David Blunkett and Britain's military top brass.

A small group of demonstrators outside the palace gates shouted their disapproval, but their efforts were drowned out by a military band playing the US and British national anthems.

Secretary of State Colin Powell and Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, were among the VIPs seen in the Royal Pavilion, whose twin turrets bedecked with the Stars and Stripes looked like something out of Disneyland.

Powell, clearly enjoying the occasion, used a pocket-sized camera to capture the occasion.

Bush appeared proud but awkward as he stood aside the queen, herself dressed in a lilac coat and matching hat.

Prince Philip then escorted Bush on an inspection of the Guard of Honour, made up of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, who were adorned in tall black bearskin hats and long grey coats.

The president then watched a ride past the dais by more than 100 members of the Household Cavalry on their gleaming black mounts and wearing shiny gold breastplates and red or white tassels on their decorative helmets.

Bush then went back into the palace to tour a palace display of US-related royal memorabilia, including souveniers from Buffalo Bill's trip to London in 1892 when he put on a Wild West show for Queen Victoria. – Sapa-AFP.
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