A giant orange inflatable image of Donald Trump as an angry baby in a nappy took off at Parliament Square in London Friday as thousands descended upon central London to register their protest against the US President’s visit to the UK.
The so-called Trump blimp has become the visible symbol for a series of protests by various groups on the main day of protests across London on Friday, when the President sat down for talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May at her country retreat of Chequers, saying the US-UK relationship was “very, very strong” and the “highest level of special”.
Protesters gathered outside the BBC headquarters in central London’s Portland Place to kick-start two major marches - one headed towards Parliament Square and the other, bigger one towards Trafalgar Square. The key groups leading the protests were led by “The Women’s March on London – Bring the Noise” and “Together against Trump”.
“We are obliged to balance the needs of protesters with issues of the safety, particularly in a crowded place, of those people attending the event and the wider community in London,” the Metropolitan Police said as it controlled crowds at Trafalgar Square, which it said had hit “full capacity”.
Much of the atmosphere was described as “carnival like” and relaxed as people sought to register their opposition to Trump’s policies with their slogans, drums, whistles and vuvuzelas.
“The idea that we limit the rights to protest, we limit the rights to free speech because it may cause offence to a foreign leader is a very, very slippery slope,” said London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who had given permission for the Trump balloon to fly.
“This protest is not anti-American – far from it… having a special relationship means that we expect the highest standards from each other, and it also means speaking out when we think the values we hold dear are under threat,” he said.
Campaigners raised more than GBP 29,000 to pay for the giant balloon and have said it is intended as a humorous protest to counter the “misery” created by Trump.
“For me this is British political satire at its finest,” said Sheila Menon, an Indian-origin member of the group calling itself the “Trump Babysitters”.
“You can’t dismiss this as childish or offensive – it is a creative, safe and non-violent way to make a real political statement and hold oppressors to account,” she said.
Leo Murray, who launched the balloon campaign, added: “While protesting against the President’s UK visit may be a no-brainer, it is quite clear by now that appealing to Trump’s conscience is like shouting into the void.
“On the other hand, little Donald’s stunted emotional and psychological development has left him uniquely vulnerable to personal insults.”
Various other protests have been organised by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Liberty as well as a “Walk-out Against Trump” drive by Young Socialists. The central London marches from the BBC headquarters towards Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square were joined by numerous splinter groups.
Busloads of protesters arrived from across the UK to London for the main rally at Trafalgar Square on Friday, according to umbrella group Together Against Trump. Placards including “Dump Trump”, “American Psycho” and “Trump not welcome” were among the many banners and placards being handed out to the thousands of protesters.
Scotland Yard policed the protests with a “ring of steel” around the UK Parliament complex as well as steel fences along some of the route of the procession.
“The role of the Met is to achieve a balance between public safety and people’s right to protest. Another significant part of the policing operation is also to minimise disruption to the communities of London, so we have tried to ensure that all our plans and policing operations take this into account wherever we can,” the Met Police said.
The US Embassy in London had warned its citizens protests against Trump’s visit this week could turn violent.
US First Lady Melania Trump, who paid a visit to the Royal Hospital Chelsea to meet retired soldiers and local schoolchildren alongside British PM’s husband Philip May would have had a glimpse of some of the protesters.
Protests also took place outside Chequers, where the bilateral talks took place, and in Scotland, where the American leader will arrive on Friday evening after having tea with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.