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Protests Continue for Rice in Britain

April 02, 2006|From the Associated Press

BLACKBURN, England — A second day of loud antiwar protests greeted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday, and the top U.S. diplomat heard more subtle pleas for peace and tolerance from Christian and Muslim leaders in this multiethnic but divided northern town.

Early today, she and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw arrived in Baghdad, said a British Embassy spokesperson there.

The spokesperson, who declined to be identified because of embassy rules, refused to say anything about Rice's plans but said Straw would meet with Iraqi politicians.

In Blackburn, Rice met with local Muslim leaders, including the mayor, a former Ugandan refugee. Blackburn is about 20% Muslim, and opposition to the U.S. presence in Iraq is strong.

Outside the town hall, about 200 demonstrators shouted, "Shame on you!" as Rice's party arrived.

"To a certain extent, the protesters make my point, that democracy is the only system where people's voices can be heard and heard peacefully," Rice told reporters after a meeting with about a dozen local Muslim leaders.

Rice also said she looked forward to the day when the U.S. could close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The prison will not remain open "any longer than is needed," Rice said at a news conference in Blackburn's town hall. "We have to recognize Guantanamo is there for a reason, because we captured people on battlefields ... who were either plotting, or planning or actively engaged in terrorist activities."

The shouts of demonstrators and the blare of police whistles outside could be clearly heard in the building as Rice spoke alongside her British counterpart, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

At the meeting, Muslim community leaders expressed to Rice their opposition to the war in Iraq. They also raised concerns about the Guantanamo prison and U.S. policies in the Palestinian territories, a Muslim businessman said afterward.

Kam Kothia, of the Blackburn Asian Business Federation, said he and other leaders gave Rice the same message of opposition to U.S. policies voiced in less polite tones outside.

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