Tough Police Line with Protests Was `a Political Order' ; DEMONSTRATIONS Accusations of "Pressure from Above" to Keep the Peace Are Denied as China's Leader Moves on to France
Colin Brown Chief Political Correspondent, The Independent (London, England)
SENIOR CABINET sources last night raised the prospect of an internal rift over the controversial policing tactics during the state visit of the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, which led to the suppression of peaceful protesters.
Home Office minister Paul Boateng said yesterday that it was "inconceivable" that government pressure had been brought to bear on the Metropolitan police to ensure a "trouble-free" visit. But one Cabinet source said last night he was personally convinced that police orders had "come from above".
"People were taken aback by some of the heavy handed policing. There is no doubt that it was directed from Downing Street and the Home Office," said one Cabinet source.
The Metropolitan Police announced yesterday it would mount an investigation into the policing operation, and ministers feel that orders to "avoid embarrassment" during the Chinese state visit may have been interpreted too literally.
Meanwhile the pressure group Free Tibet revealed it was taking legal advice after a number of its members were prevented from demonstrating during the visit. "The inquiry is clearly welcome but there are still questions about policing and we want to see greater transparency," said spokeswoman Alison Reynolds.
Suggestions of Cabinet dissent over the suppression of free speech initially surfaced when David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, said on BBC's Question Time that there would be an automatic review of policing after Jiang's departure.
Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe yesterday said that the policing methods had been "extremely unusual": "What is unusual is that we have seen people being prevented from waving flags. …