Human rights protesters vied with China supporters and tourists to see Chinese president Xi Jinping ride in a carriage to Buckingham Palace on the first day of a state visit that Britain hopes will cement financial ties.
Hailed as the beginning of a “golden era” in Sino-British relations, the visit, which will seal a host of business deals, has been criticised by activists who accuse prime minister David Cameron of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses.
It has also ruffled feathers among some of Britain’s traditional allies, such as the US, where Xi’s visit last month was tainted by friction over cyber-theft and Beijing’s moves in Asian maritime disputes.
The four-day visit is the culmination of a three-year charm offensive to show Britain “walking tall on the world stage”, in the words of a government minister.
Cameron also hopes to attract investment in infrastructure, nuclear power, and his government’s planned transformation of northern England.
Thousands of supporters held red and yellow Chinese dragons and huge portraits of Xi as they posed for photographs on The Mall in front of Buckingham Palace, where Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, will stay as guests of Queen Elizabeth.
However, hundreds protesting against China’s human rights record interrupted the pomp.
They held banners saying: “Down with the Communist Party” and “End the crackdown” on freedom of speech.
A leader of China’s Muslim Uighur minority said the red carpet being laid out by Britain was stained with the blood of his people.
Hundreds have been killed in violence in the region, blamed by Beijing on Islamist militants.
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