Fri, Jun 13, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Italian activists plan rallies during visit by Bush


US President George W. Bush can look forward to a hearty welcome from his old friend, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Rome. That is not what he should expect in the streets, however, where anti-Bush sentiment over the war in Iraq still lingers.

Anti-war activists and thousands of other demonstrators planned to march through the streets of the Italian capital to protest Bush’s visit, which was to include meetings with Berlusconi and the pope yesterday.

Commercial flights have been banned over Rome during Bush’s two-day stay. Dozens of buses and trams have been rerouted. Thousands of policemen have been deployed to monitor the protests.

Slovenia and Germany, the first two stops on Bush’s trip, were devoid of demonstrators.

That was evidence that trans-Atlantic relations are on the mend, that European leaders have moved beyond their anger over the war. The Rome protests are evidence that the Italian public still opposes the Bush administration.

The 71-year-old media mogul defied domestic opposition and dispatched about 3,000 troops to Iraq after the fall of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

Those troops came home, but more than 2,000 Italian troops, however, are deployed as part of the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.

Italy, along with Germany, France and Spain, have restricted their troops to less dangerous areas in northern Afghanistan.

That has caused a rift because other NATO members are deployed in the more violent regions of the country.

The Italian government is reviewing the restrictions and Berlusconi’s office said the prime minister would talk to Bush about that when they meet.

Berlusconi and Bush also were expected to discuss Italy’s interest in joining with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, that are making a diplomatic push to get Iran to give up what the West believes is an effort to develop nuclear weapons.

Bush was scheduled to meet with the pope today before departing to Paris to continue his farewell European tour.

It will be Bush’s third meeting with Benedict. The two last met in April at the White House in Washington.

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