Thursday, April 06, 2006

April 2, 2006
Rice Finds British Muslims Want to Give Her an Earful
Correction Appended

BLACKBURN, England, April 1 — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice faced more protests and public embarrassment here on Saturday that have turned a trip meant to be a friendly follow-up to an American trip by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw into a two-day run through a raucous, mishap-ridden gantlet.
She was heckled by protesters and faced criticism from Muslim leaders hand-selected to meet with her by the Foreign Office during a visit here, the district Mr. Straw represents in Parliament. He visited Ms. Rice's hometown, Birmingham, Ala., in October.
About 250 protesters ringing Blackburn's City Hall shouted "Shame on you" as the two arrived. Through the din, Ms. Rice looked off into the distance and spotted a handful of people, many holding shopping bags, who had stopped to gawk.
She pointed them out to Mr. Straw, and the two of them waved enthusiastically. Later, Mr. Straw said this gathering of "people who agree with the visit" was "at least as large as the protesters."
In a news conference, Ms. Rice said she was "enjoying this visit very much." She described the meeting with the Muslim leaders as "immensely stimulating and interesting."
Although the names of the 21 Muslim leaders had been made public, several of them requested that their names not be published or broadcast, for fear of repercussions. Five who agreed to be interviewed clearly feared they might be viewed as traitors.
"We are here to represent the views of the thousands of protesters out there," said Kamrudden Kotha, the leader of a business federation. "We talked to them about the perceived double standard of American foreign policy. But I am not naïve enough to think we will change American foreign policy."
Whenever asked, Mr. Straw said the protesters were a small minority, and he even belittled them, saying at one point that he "could have done better" during his youthful days as a peace advocate. He added, "I can't say I am embarrassed in the least" by the reception his hometown gave to Ms. Rice. "If you did an opinion poll, you'd find that the vast majority of people in Blackburn agree with this trip."
On Friday, Ms. Rice had to content herself with a visit to the Liverpool school where Paul McCartney studied instead of meeting him — and had to face a short line of students wearing T-shirts that said: "No torture. No compromise." During a visit to a school in Blackburn, she was greeted with chants of "Condi Rice go home!"
Mr. Straw had advised Ms. Rice that she would probably be greeted by protesters on the trip, officials said, and she told him that such confrontations would not bother her. She gave several interviews to the British press, and almost every one was dominated by questions about her rough reception.
"People can say whatever they wish," she told The Lancashire Evening Telegraph. "I know where I stand. We made the right decision" in Iraq. "I was fully supportive of the decision."
During the news conference in Blackburn on Saturday, the boos and jeers rose to greet the secretaries as they spoke. Referring to the protesters at one point, Ms. Rice said, "They make my point. A democracy is the only system of government that allows people to be heard peacefully."
In front of City Hall a little earlier, Mayor Yusef Janvirmani, a native of Uganda, stood on the steps, resplendent in his ceremonial red robes, the heavy gold mayor's medallion suspended from his neck. He seemed unsure what to do as he prepared to welcome Blackburn's most prominent foreign visitor in decades. He decided to shake hands with the protesters behind the barricades as if he were working a rope line. "I'm delighted they are here," he told reporters. "I am against the war and will tell her that."
"But," he added, "having the secretary of state here is good for the economy."
Correction: April 6, 2006
Because of editing errors, articles on Saturday and Sunday about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to England misstated Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's relationship to Blackburn, England. It is a town in the district he represents, not his hometown.

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