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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Trump cancels London trip

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US President Donald Trump announced Friday he will no longer attend the opening of the new US embassy in London, a move welcomed by critics in Britain who had planned mass protests. He wrote on Twitter that he was abandoning the trip initially scheduled for next month because he did not like the location and price tag of the new building.

"Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for "peanuts," only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars," Trump wrote.

"Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon - NO!" There had been speculation that the trip would be merged with a planned state visit to Britain offered to  Trump by Prime Minister Theresa May, which has met with strong public and political opposition. A spokesman for her Downing Street office said Friday said that the state visit plans have not changed, although no date has yet been set.

Opposition to Trump's visit was initially focused on his travel ban on Muslim-majority countries, and most recently his re-tweet of anti-Muslim videos posted by a far-right organization, Britain First. "Many Londoners have made it clear that Donald Trump is not welcome here while he is pursuing such a divisive agenda. It seems he's finally got that message," tweeted Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

He said there would have been "mass peaceful protests", adding: "This reinforces what a mistake it was for Theresa May to rush and extend an invitation of a state visit in the first place." Stephen Doughty, an opposition Labour lawmaker, tweeted: "Reason @realDonaldTrump cancelled trip to London is that we are not a big fan of his racist, sexist, unthinking behavior.

"Big protests if he came to cut ribbon. He wanted the red carpet treatment and cheering crowds - NO!" But leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, who visited Trump following his election, said the decision was "disappointing". "He's been to countries all over the world and yet he's not been to the one with whom he's closest," he said. Farage said that plans for protests by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Khan who has traded barbs with Trump on Twitter may have been a factor.

"Maybe, just maybe, Sadiq Khan, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party planning mass protests, maybe those optics he didn't like the look of," he told BBC radio. Asked about Trump's stated reasons for refusing to open the new embassy, Farage said: "He's the real estate guy."

The new 12-storey, cube-shaped building, designed by American architects KieranTimberlake, is located in a regenerated area on the south bank of the River Thames. It will be open for business on January 16. The decision to move from the former prestigious location in Mayfair, central London, was taken by the administration of former Republican president George W. Bush in October 2008, partly for security reasons in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

In December, Ambassador Woody Johnson said he was looking forward to welcoming the president when he visited, adding: "I think he will be very impressed with this building and the people who occupy it." He said the new embassy was a "signal to the world that this special relationship that we have is stronger and is going to grow and get better".

As recently as January 7, May reiterated that the state visit was still planned, saying "Trump is coming to the UK".
However, relations between the pair have been strained since May became the first foreign leader to visit the White House following the president's inauguration in January 2017. In November, she said the president was "wrong" to re-tweet videos posted by Britain First, prompting an extraordinary rebuke.

"Don't focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom," Trump hit back. May stressed afterwards that Britain and the United States have "a long-term special relationship... it is an enduring relationship that is there because its in both our nations' interests".

-AFP, London

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