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For the Romneys in London, a tight circle of security

July 25, 2012|By Maeve Reston
  • A campaign sticker for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is seen on a street sign for Romney Street in London.
A campaign sticker for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney… (Charles Dharapak / Associated…)

LONDON – Mitt and Ann Romney arrived in London showing their U.S.A. colors as they prepared to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, but given the tight security encircling them, it seemed unlikely they would be spotted by many expatriate or English fans outside of their public events.

The hotel where the Romneys are staying, which overlooks Hyde Park and is hosting many top Olympics officials, was a virtual fortress of security Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the Romneys arrived.

Dozens of security personnel stood guard, checking passports and demanding documentation from hotel guests. Anyone entering the premises had to submit to screening by magnetometers and was asked to send their belongings through X-ray machines similar to those used at airports. Several streets were closed off to all but “official vehicles,” with Olympics personnel stopping all cars at checkpoints.

Romney, who headed the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, has close ties to many leaders on the organizing committee. And this year his wife has a special connection: her dressage horse Rafalca and her trainer Jan Ebeling won a spot on the U.S. Olympic Equestrian team.

When the Romneys arrived Wednesday (captured on camera from a distance by CNN), Ann Romney was wearing a navy jacket emblazoned with an American flag on the forearm and U.S.A. stitched across the back. A campaign official said Ann bought the jacket earlier this summer for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Before the Romneys attend opening ceremonies on Friday, the presumed Republican nominee will hold meetings with British leaders, beginning with former Prime Minister Tony Blair Thursday morning. After a visit to Parliament, where he plans to meet with Labor Party leader Ed Miliband, he will met with David Cameron at 10 Downing Street and then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne next door. 

The Romney campaign has stressed that the candidate will not be making any major policy pronouncements on the trip, and his meetings are not open to the press, but the Romney campaign plans to allow a photo op after each of them. The campaign is also permitting a small pool of reporters to attend Romney’s fundraiser Thursday evening in London.

After his United Kingdom visit, Romney heads to Israel for meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Early next week, he will spend time in Poland at the invitation of Lech Walesa, the co-founder of the Solidarity movement that helped bring down communist rule a generation ago.

For this leg of the journey, however, the Romney campaign is looking to highlight the candidate’s role turning around the 2002 Olympic Games, which he headed after a corruption scandal. The candidate plans to talk about that role during an interview he taped with NBC’s Brian Williams, which airs on the "NBC Nightly News" on Wednesday evening.

The couple also planned to slip out for a private dinner after a quiet day adjusting to the time change.

Meanwhile, Olympic fever had overtaken London. Train cars on the tube were crammed with tourists and Olympic vendors, and locals were grumbling about the loss of traffic lanes that were dedicated to official vehicles.

Despite the best efforts of Michelle Obama and other international leaders to put a spotlight on fitness this week, sunbathing was the most popular activity in Hyde Park during a series of especially warm summer days.

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

Twitter: @MaeveReston

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