Survivors of Japanese prison camps turned their backs in protest Tuesday as Emperor Akihito rode past in a gilded carriage to Buckingham Palace on the first day of a state visit.
Some protesters along The Mall blew whistles, jeered or whistled "Colonel Bogey," the tune associated with the movie "The Bridge on the River Kwai." The protests were peaceful, and there were also scores of Japanese along the route waving Japanese and British flags.Prime Minister Tony Blair appealed for a warm reception for the head of state of one of Britain's key economic partners, but the Japanese Labor Camps Survivors Association wants compensation from Japan for its members' mistreatment and forced labor.
"It has been this feeling of great injustice that has driven us to pursue a claim for compensation and a full apology from your government, and it is this sense of great injustice that has driven us on to the streets today," association spokesman Arthur Titherington said in an open letter to Akihito.
The group is seeking $22,000 for each of its 12,000 members and an apology. Internees were given a small amount under a 1952 peace treaty, and the British government decided in 1955 not to seek further redress.
Japanese Ambassador Kazuo Chiba told reporters Tuesday that Japan's constitution does not permit any political involvement - such as an apology - by the emperor.
"But within these constraints he will express his deep feelings as much as he can," Chiba said.
Many of the protesters wore white sashes saying "Compensation Overdue" or "Prisoner of War Japan 1941-45."
Estelle Cowley also wore a tattered piece of cloth with the number 6/148 - the number given her when she was 13 and put in a prison camp near Beijing.
"We had to wear this every day, parade in it, parade wearing it through snow or searing heat," she said. "Are they sorry? No, they're not really."
Shortly before the horse-mounted Household Cavalry appeared, 82-year-old Jack Caplan set fire to a Japanese flag.
"They don't change. They all wear the Saville Row suits now. They bow and scrape and everyone thinks they're nice guys," said Caplan, a veteran of the Royal Corps of Signals. He said he was a prisoner in four Japanese labor camps for 3 1/2 years after being captured in Singapore in 1942.