By Andrew MacAskill and Andrew R.C. Marshall
LONDON (Reuters) - Thousands of people protested in central London on Tuesday against U.S. President Donald Trump’s pomp-laden state visit to Britain, but numbers were well down on the tens of thousands who gathered to oppose his visit last year.
Protesters shouted, banged drums and waved placards at what organizers called a “Carnival of Resistance” in Trafalgar Square while Prime Minister Theresa May held talks with Trump a short distance away at her Downing Street residence.
The leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, addressed the rally, calling it “the living embodiment of what a democratic society was all about”.
Among Britons, Trump is one of the least-liked foreign leaders, with just 21% of people surveyed by YouGov having a positive opinion of him. Among women, that figure fell to 14%.
The protest’s tone was set by a large statue of Trump sitting on a golden lavatory with his trousers around his ankles. People held placards that read “Keep your tiny hands off our Queen”, “Lock him in the tower” and “Free Melania!”
Linda Coplestone, 64, a retired teacher from London, said she was protesting inaction by Trump on climate change.
“We have ruined the planet,” she said. “He has a powerful voice and could do something about it. He chooses not to.”
Often with creativity and humor, the protesters rallied around issues ranging from restrictions on women’s reproductive rights to fears that U.S. businesses would carve up Britain’s ailing but cherished health service.
The crowd, several thousand strong, was far smaller than the one that protested Trump’s first visit to Britain as president in July 2018, but featured the same British humor.
One woman carried a sign carrying the Shakespearean insult, “I bite my thumb at thee!” Elsewhere, a man sold toilet rolls featuring Trump’s face for three pounds a piece.
There were pockets of support. A few men wearing red caps with “Make America Great Again” walked among the crowd. Trump supporters said the protests were an insult to the leader of the United Kingdom’s most powerful ally.
A giant inflatable blimp depicting Trump as a sneering baby in a diaper flew outside the British parliament, remaining airborne as the president held talks with May.
Trump and his wife Melania arrived on Monday for a three-day state visit that included a banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace on Monday evening.
The protesters have been largely kept away from Trump, with roads closed around Buckingham Palace and Downing Street.
Trump said he was loved in Britain despite the protests. He said he was closer to Britain than any other American leader, citing his mother’s Scottish roots and the two golf courses he owns in the country.
He said on Tuesday he had seen thousands of people on the streets cheering during his visit.
“I heard that there were protests,” he told reporters. “I said: ‘Where are the protests? I don’t see any protests.’
“I didn’t see the protesters until just a little while ago, and it was a very, very small group of people put in for political reasons.”
Opposition in Britain to Trump’s presidency has been stoked by his ban on travel to the United States from several mainly Muslim countries, his decision to quit a global deal on combating climate change and a host of other issues.
As one woman’s makeshift sign read: “I am going to need more cardboard.”
($1 = 0.7910 pounds)
Reporting by Andrew MacAskill and Andrew Marshall, Writing by Paul Sandle; editing by Gareth Jones and Jon Boyle