Sun, Nov 06, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Bush opposed both inside and out at summit

STREET VIOLENCE Several hundred anti-Bush protesters faced off with Argentinean police as they lit bonfires and broke store windows

AFP , MAR DEL PLATA, ARGENTINA

A protester kicks in a window of a bank during a march against the presence of US President George W. Bush at the Fourth Summit of the Americas in the Argentinean resort city of Mar del Plata on Friday.

PHOTO: AP

US President George W. Bush braced yesterday for the second day of the 34-nation Summit of the Americas here, buffeted by anti-US protests and dogged resistance to his bid for pan-American free trade.

Riot police fired tear gas on Friday as demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails, lit bonfires and smashed shop windows some 600m from the plush hotel where leaders were meeting in the Atlantic resort city of Mar del Plata.

Hundreds of protesters in ski-masks confronted police after a larger group of some 40,000 rallied peacefully at a football stadium to voice their anger at Bush's foreign and economic policies.

The US leader, faced with record low popularity at home as well as abroad, acknowledged the tensions after meeting with Argentine President Nestor Kirchner.

"It's not easy to host all these countries. It's particularly not easy to host, perhaps, me," allowed Bush, whose motorcade whisked past the protests.

Federal police said 64 people were arrested in the clashes, in which a bank and nearby shops were torched. By late on Friday, street violence had subsided and a security source said the situation was "under control."

However, this was not before about 30 attackers tore up sidewalks and hurled the concrete through the windows of the BankBoston branch.

A branch of British-based HSBC also was targeted and an office of local Banco Galicia was set ablaze under a barrage of Molotov cocktails. McDonald's and Burger King restaurants also had their windows smashed.

In protests elsewhere in Argentina, police in the southern city of Neuquen fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators who threw eggs and stones at a Blockbuster video store, part of a US-owned chain.

In Buenos Aires, protesters covered the Obelisk, the capital's central monument, with a banner declaring "Bush Get Out." Demonstrators burned a US flag nearby.

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin said he was "dismayed and deeply troubled by the violence ... We in Canada believe in the free and frank exchange of ideas; peaceful demonstration is a part of this. We cannot allow the integrity of the peaceful exchange of ideas to be demeaned by the deplorable and reckless acts of a few."

Market reforms and a proposed free-trade area of the Americas (FTAA) touted by Bush have encountered growing skepticism amid persistent unemployment and poverty across the Americas.

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, a virulent critic of Bush and close ally of Cuba's Fidel Castro, repeated his accusation that Washington was plotting to invade his oil-rich country.

"An imperialist invasion of Venezuela will be the start of a 100-year war," Chavez told the crowd, speaking for more than two hours under driving rain.

Among anti-US activists here were Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel; the populist frontrunner in Bolivia's presidential race, Evo Morales; and Argentine football idol Diego Maradona.

On arrival, Chavez, who has boosted his international profile in the region with his coffers flush with petrodollars, announced: "the FTAA is dead and we are going to bury it here."

Officials struggled to agree on the wording of the final declaration to be adopted later yesterday.

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