LONDON Queen Elizabeth II welcomed Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Tuesday with an honor guard and rode with him to Buckingham Palace in her gilded carriage, passing protesters who condemned the oil-rich kingdom for alleged human rights abuses.
Before arriving Monday for the first state visit by a Saudi king in two decades, Abdullah accused Britain of failing to act on intelligence that might have prevented the 2005 London transit bombings. Analysts said the comments appeared to be an attempt to distance himself from the extremists and at the same time pre-empt attacks on Saudi Arabia's record of fighting terrorism.
"I don't think the U.K. should be hosting human rights abusers," said Anna Jones, 26, who donned a mask of Queen Elizabeth as she joined a row of dozens of other protesters along the procession route.
Other protesters yelled and waved banners condemning the British government's "hypocrisy" and saying: "You can't do this in Riyadh."
Vince Cable, acting leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, boycotted the visit, claiming the kingdom has a poor human rights record, especially regarding torture, public executions and discrimination against women.
Before the ride to the palace, Abdullah reviewed an honor guard at a parade ground in central London, a lavish welcome criticized by the demonstrators.
Later at a halal banquet hosted in Abdullah's honor, the queen spoke of "shared values" and said links between the two countries' armed forces were "stronger than ever."
Abdullah, speaking through a translator, praised Britain's "sense of tolerance" and appealed for its help in securing peace for the Palestinian people.
Saudi Arabia, the world's leading oil producer, is an absolute monarchy where citizens are expected to follow a strict interpretation of Islam. Convictions of murder, drug trafficking, rape and armed robbery carry mandatory death sentences by beheading.
As the pageantry unfolded in London for Abdullah's visit, two men convicted of murder were beheaded in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, bringing to 119 the number of people beheaded by the kingdom this year.
British officials acknowledge the abuses but say Saudi Arabia is their closest ally in the Middle East and Abdullah, 82, is helping it to slowly reform.
Abdullah was scheduled to meet Prime Minister Gordon Brown Wednesday to discuss Iraq, the Iran nuclear standoff, the Middle East peace process and counterterrorism.
A cartoon in The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday depicted Brown lauding "universal human rights" but bowing to the Saudi king.
Others accuse Saudi Arabia of spreading ideas that fuel extremism and terrorism.
The Saudi royal family's legitimacy depends on a puritanical version of Islam known as Wahhabism. The Saudi royals face the delicate task of maintaining the approval of some of the same clerics who inspire al-Qaida-oriented terrorists.
The London-based The Policy Exchange think tank said in a report published Tuesday that organizations linked to the Saudi government have been trying to export that puritanical version of Islam by distributing extremist literature to mosques and Islamic centers in Britain.
The material called for violence against enemies of Islam, including women and gays who demand equal rights, according to the think tank.
Abdullah accusation that Britain failed to act on intelligence that might have prevented the 2005 London transit bombings touched off debate about the kingdom's response to terror.
British officials denied the king's claims, saying they received information from Saudi officials but it was not about the London transit bombings, which killed 52 commuters and four suicide bombers.
Abdullah's visit has also been clouded by a U.S. investigation over whether a Saudi prince received kickbacks in an $87 billion arms deal with a British weapons manufacturer. The British government dropped its own investigation after then-Prime Minister Tony Blair said it would put British jobs in jeopardy and could weaken Saudi cooperation in combating terrorism.
Critics accuse the government of trying to cover up Saudi corruption to safeguard Britain's financial interests in the country, the biggest market for British exports in the Middle East.
Blair ordered the investigation be dropped in December amid news reports that claimed Saudi officials had threatened to drop plans to buy a new Eurofighter aircraft from British aerospace firm BAE.
U.S. authorities are still waiting for British investigators to release their files.