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Berlusconi Assures Bush of Italian Support in Iraq

Just before visiting one of his sharpest critics, the French president, U.S. President Bush received assurances from Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi that his country was prepared to stick by the United States in Iraq.

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Berlusconi is one of Bush's closest allies in Europe

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said at a joint news conference with U.S. President George W. Bush Saturday in Rome that Italy would continue supporting the United States in fighting terrorism and in Iraq and would not withdraw its troops from the country.

"Only through joint action will we succeed in fighting this recent war, the war caused by the terror attacks," Berlusconi said.

Bush called the war on terrorism the "challenge of our time" and compared it to the West's fight against communism in the post-World War II era. "The fundamental question is will we hold the line and uphold our values," he said.

He thanked Berlusconi for his help in negotiating with U.N. Security Council members who had opposed the Iraq war, such as Russia. And he said he was confident that the U.N. Security Council would soon adopt a resolution on Iraq endorsing a new interim government for the country and establishing a multinational force to provide security for the country to organize elections in January.

"I sense a spirit of unity in terms of working with the new Iraqi government," Bush said.

Berlusconi is one of Bush's strongest allies in Europe. His country has around 2,700 troops in Iraq, the third largest foreign contingent there after those of the United States and Britain.

Dissent from Pope, protesters

Meeting on Friday with the Pope, who opposed the Iraq war, Bush said he shared the pontiff's feelings about the pictures of U.S. soldiers abusing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

"I, like his Holiness, was repulsed by the pictures I saw about the treatment by some of our troops toward Iraqi prisoners," Bush said. "That treatment did not reflect the spirit of America. Those people stained our honor."

Demonstration gegen George Bush Besuch in Rom

A man holds a U.S. flag with a swastika upside down at a protest against President Bush's visit to Rome on Friday.

Despite tight security measures, Bush's visit was accompanied Friday by tens of thousands of anti-war protesters on the streets of Rome. Bush said he was happy to be in a country where people are free to voice their opinions. "Democracy is a beautiful thing," he commented.

Bush is set to meet with French President Jacques Chirac Saturday for a working dinner in Paris. The U.S. president is likely to have a difficult time presenting such a positive picture after meeting with Chirac as he did with Berlusconi. France, one of the countries most vehemently opposed to the Iraq war, has demanded changes to the draft Security Council resolution and called for more input from Iraq's interim leaders and the U.N. envoy, Lakhdar Brahmini.

On Sunday, Bush will take part in celebrations commemorating the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings of the Allies during World War II in Normandy, northern France.

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