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Germany

Thousands Tell Bush He's Unwelcome

George Bush and Gerhard Schröder may have agreed during their meeting in Mainz to bury the hatchet on Iraq, but the thousands of German protesters who flooded the city were not as forgiving.

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Demonstrators hoped to send Bush an inhospitable message


They met at the train station and at security barriers. They marched through the eerily empty downtown. At the very least, their banners and posters -- for example "Bush Go Home," "War Monger," and "No. 1 Terrorist" -- proclaimed their dislike and distrust of the U.S. president.

In general, the protesters' complaints were about Bush's policies in Iraq and his refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty to curb global warming. And despite official comments from Bush and Chancellor Schröder about their disagreements being past, the demonstrators in Mainz seemed doubtful about any possible rapprochement between the US and German governments.

Demonstration gegen George Bush in Mainz

A protestor carries a banner representing the U.S. flag with bombs in the place of stars, in Mainz.

"Mr. Bush, you are a liar!" said Maria Mies, who was protesting with the group attac, which has long been active in protesting US involvement in Iraq. She noted that the basis for the war, Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction, were never found.

Kept at a distance

There were divergent reports about the number of protesters who turned out in the end. The organizers of the rallies, an alliance of pacifist groups under the motto "Not Welcome, Mr Bush," said they were expecting 10,000 people to attend, but estimates ranged between 4,000 and 12,000.

What is certain is that the march, which remained peaceful, took place in freezing temperatures and the protesters were kept well away from the visiting US president. The rally never got within a kilometer (half mile) of Bush, who is on his first German visit since the 2003 Iraq war. The war was extremely unpopular in Germany.

Colorful slogans

"I'm disgusted by the war in Iraq Bush started that has cost thousands of civilian lives," Thomas Odenweller, a 49-year-old computer technician told Reuters. "Now he's trying to normalize relations with Europe. It must be stopped."

Ignoring snow and freezing temperatures, the demonstrators held banners chastising Bush in English with slogans such as: "You can bomb the world to pieces but not into peace." Many had pre-printed posters reading: "Bush, No. 1 Terrorist".

German police confiscated one poster that read: "We had our Hitler, now you have yours."

Demonstration gegen George Bush in Mainz

Rally against the visit of U.S. President Bush

Up to and during Bush's visit, a force of 10,000 police officers staged one of the biggest postwar security operations in Germany. Frogmen searched the Rhine River for explosives, 1,300 manhole covers were welded shut and thousands of residents were displaced.

For Bush's eight-hour stay there was also a strict ban on air traffic within a 60-kilometer radius of Mainz, barges on the river were halted and motorways in the region closed. Factories, businesses and schools were shut.

Bush's visit contrasted with that of his father to Mainz in 1989 when large crowds cheered Bush senior for his calls for the Berlin Wall to be torn down. Other US presidents have also been given a hero's welcome in Germany.

"When John F. Kennedy came to Germany he drove through cheering crowds," Mark Reichelt, 20, a student, told Reuters. "Now Bush is here and will drive through empty streets."

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