CBSN

Bush Heads Home From U.K.

President Bush, left, and Prime Minister Tony Blair share a light moment at the Dun Cow pub, during a visit to Blair's constituency of Sedgefield in England, Friday, Nov. 21 2003.
AP
President Bush is on board Air Force One and on his way back to Washington after wrapping up a controversial four-day trip to Great Britain. His last day was mostly low-key, but he was once again met by protesters as he visited Prime Minister Tony Blair's home in tranquil northeast England.

Several hundred demonstrators filled the village green in the small town of Sedgefield on Friday, chanting "Bush out" and carrying upside-down U.S. flags and posters branding him the world's "Number-One Terrorist."

However, others cheered the visit. Youngsters who shook his hand called the experience "brilliant."

In the nearby village of Trimdon Colliery, Mr. Bush and his wife Laura had tea at Blair's house in the district. They then went to lunch at the Dun Cow Inn, a country pub. The president had a non-alcoholic lager, and a meal of fish and chips with mushy peas.

Afterward, he stopped at a magnet school that specializes in sports. He told reporters his visit has been "fantastic," and that Blair and Queen Elizabeth have been great hosts.

The president was due back in Washington on Friday evening.

By taking Blair up on the rare invitation to visit Sedgefield, Mr. Bush was looking to decompress a bit after two intense days in London. While in London, Mr. Bush gave a foreign policy speech defending the Iraq war; was jeered by tens of thousands of protesters; was the star of a state dinner at Buckingham Palace; met with relatives of British victims of Sept. 11 and of British soldiers killed in Iraq; and faced sharp questioning at a news conference with Blair just after terrorist bombs in Istanbul exploded at a London-based bank and the British consulate.

During a joint appearance Thursday, Blair said the attack in Turkey could not be blamed on the president's visit, nor the U.S.-British alliance. The two leaders said the attacks would only strengthen U.S. resolve in Iraq.

Al Qaeda was widely blamed for the attacks in Istanbul. The Times of London noted in its editions Friday that one of the Turkey blasts, the one that hit the British Consulate, was the first direct al Qaeda strike against Britain.

Mr. Bush also appeared to raise the possibility that more U.S. troops might be sent.

"We could have less troops in Iraq, we could have the same number of troops in Iraq, we can have more troops in Iraq," Bush said when asked about U.S. troop levels. "Whatever is necessary to secure Iraq."

Aides quickly denied that the president was signaling a change in the Pentagon plan to reduce troops to 105,000 by May from the current 131,600. There are 9,000 British troops in Iraq.

Mr. Bush's London itinerary kept him walled off from ordinary citizens, but Friday's stroll through Sedgefield was intended to give him that kind of contact, or at least create the appearance of doing so.

Sedgefield is a town of 5,000 in an old coal-mining region with a handful of pubs, a few takeout restaurants, a stone church and a main street that runs about a quarter mile from end to end.

The invitation was Blair's way of repaying Mr. Bush for several visits to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, and to Crawford, Texas, where Mr. Bush owns a ranch.

Mr. Bush has invited a series of foreign leaders to the ranch, but Blair rarely brings overseas counterparts to Sedgefield. Lionel Jospin, who was then France's prime minister, did join Blair at a Sedgefield pub in 1998.

Blair has represented Sedgefield in Parliament for 20 years and has a home in Trimdon Colliery, a village a few miles outside Sedgefield.

His house sits behind a high fence and across a narrow street from a dilapidated shed and field full of goats and sheep. Nearby are rows of narrow houses, their paint peeling.

It's a world away from Buckingham Palace, where Mrs. Bush said she was awe-struck walking the halls and took mental notes for her next state dinner.

The royal family tried to make the Bushes feel at ease, she said.

The first lady said she and her husband were nonplussed by the tens of thousands of protesters who demonstrated against the war while Bush was here — most of whom the couple never saw. Police said the massive march and rally mobilized between 100,000 and 110,000 people.

"I don't think the protests are near as large as everyone was predicting before we got there," Mrs. Bush said. "We've seen plenty of American flags, we've seen plenty of people who were waving to us — many, many more people, in fact, than we've seen protesters."

Demonstrators in London tore down an enormous statue of President Bush on Thursday to show their anger for the Iraq war and Blair's support of the invasion. Some carried signs reading "Thank God There's No Oil In England."