Queen Elizabeth rolled out a red carpet welcome for Polish President Lech Walesa and promised him Britain's support in his task of building a prosperous democracy out of the ashes of communism.
The former shipyard electrician who led Poland's overthrow of communist rule was greeted with British pomp and pageantry when he arrived Tuesday for the first state visit to Britain by a Polish leader since World War II.Walesa is seeking to use his high-profile trip to gain foreign help for Poland's economy, which is struggling under the burden of debts to the West, and to involve Britain more closely in the transformation of Eastern Europe.
Queen Elizabeth, hosting a state banquet for Walesa at Windsor Castle west of London, hailed the Polish leader for his courage and tenacity which she said had helped light "the flame of freedom" that swept Eastern Europe two years ago.
She said Walesa could rely on Britain's help in his new struggle to enshrine Poland's freedom in a thriving democracy.
But Walesa would prefer to return to Poland from his four-day visit, which includes a meeting with Prime Minister John Major, with more than just a vote of confidence and the honorary knighthood the queen bestowed on him Tuesday.
Polish officials have said Walesa aims to gain firm support for Poland's bid to join the European Community, and to win Britain over to the idea of investing in his country.
"We want to act together with Britain for the unity of Europe, for a continent united by the principles of democracy and solidarity," Walesa said in a banquet speech.
He is not expected to ask for direct aid, but could push for relief on Poland's foreign debt which includes $2.3 billion owed to British banks.
Walesa, who will spend three nights as the queen's guest at Windsor, is to talk with opposition Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock, government ministers and top bankers.