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Some of the busiest parts of central London came to a standstill on Friday, as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest Donald Trump on the second day of his four-day U.K. visit, his first as U.S. President.
A “Stop Trump” rally has been in the works ever since Trump’s U.K. trip came to light last year, with more than 10,000 initially expected to show up — many traveling from across the country — as police anticipated the biggest turnout since the demonstrations against the Iraq war in 2002. The organizers, however, identified the turnout to be 250,000 people once the protest began.
The main demonstration of the day (a women’s march against Trump through London took place earlier), the protest began outside the BBC headquarters on Portland Place at 2 p.m. local time, before moving down Regent’s Street and concluding in Trafalgar Square.
250,000 people are protesting #togetheragainsttrump in central London right now! #resist #carnivalofresistance #UKtrumpvisit pic.twitter.com/bTacIgyvpT
— Stop Trump (@UKStopTrump) July 13, 2018
Among those taking part was Oscar winner Mark Rylance, who earlier in the week spoke at an event about the importance of showing dissent, saying to not protest would be a “disaster” and that the U.K. “shouldn’t underestimate the effect we have in standing up and saying, ‘No thank you, Mr. Trump. There’s another way forward, a way together, a way with hope’.”
Earlier in the day, the much-discussed “Trump Baby” — a 20-foot-tall helium-filled blimp depicting Trump as an angry orange baby — had its maiden voyage, soaring around 100 feet above Parliament Square between the permitted hours of 9.30 a.m. and 11.30 a.m. The liftoff was watched by hundreds of cheering spectators, alongside numerous members of international TV crews and — THR noticed — one solitary individual wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap and a Trump 2020 T-shirt, who later got into a lively debate with several others.
Organizers of the blimp — which has been become arguably the most famous symbol of the U.K. protest and caused a stir on both sides of the Atlantic — now plan to take it on a world tour, following the president wherever he goes and “trolling Donald from the skies.”
London mayor Sadiq Khan, who has been personally attacked several times by Trump over Twitter, had been heavily criticized — most notably by Rudy Guiliani — for allowing the Trump Baby to fly.
Speaking to BBC radio earlier on Friday, he defended his decision, saying, “The U.K. like — in fact — the U.S. has a long and rich history of the rights and the freedoms to protest, the freedom of speech, the freedom to assemble. Can you imagine if we limited freedom of speech because somebody’s feelings might be hurt?”
As for the man himself, Trump was nowhere near either his inflatable alter-ego or the protests being held in his honor. After spending his first night in London Thursday behind heavy security at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Regents Park, early Friday morning he was whisked to the famed Sandhurst military training academy and then on to Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country residence, to discuss foreign policy with Theresa May.
However, even before arriving in the U.K., he sparked headlines on Thursday with an incendiary exclusive interview with tabloid The Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, in which he — again — attacked Khan for doing a “bad job on terrorism” and immigration (something Khan, as London mayor, has little responsibility for), criticized May’s policy regarding Brexit and said she had “ignored” his advice and endorsed her chief rival Boris Johnson, who resigned last week as foreign secretary.
Many commentators said, in attacking his hosts, the interview had ignored all the usual diplomatic etiquette and conventions.
However, Trump acknowledged the protests, telling The Sun that he was spending as little time in London as possible as a result. “I used to love London as a city. I haven’t been there in a long time,” he said. “But when they make you feel unwelcome, why would I stay there?”
July 13, 9:15 a.m. Updated with protest turnout.
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