Thousands March In Berlin Protest Against Bush Visit

by Tony Paterson in Berlin, May 22, 2002

German MPs joined thousands of demonstrators on the streets of Berlin yesterday to protest against the policies of President George Bush, who is due to arrive in the capital today for a 19-hour visit.

Waving red flags and banners that read "We don't want' your war" and "Axis of evil - Washington-Paris-London-Berlin", more than 10,000 anti-Bush protesters marched through the centre of the city in a series of demonstrations. The rallies drew protesters from 240 groups throughout Germany.

A peaceful anti-Bush demonstration by members of the Green party, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's coalition partners, was called off within minutes of the start yesterday after radical anarchists stormed a podium where Green MPs were to speak. Riot police with tear gas and water cannon drove back and arrested the anarchists, who chanted "Warmongers" and "Hypocrites".

Claudia Roth MP, the Green party leader, said: "This is not a good omen for our democracy. We had wanted to send a clear signal that we are opposed to US plans in Iraq."

Christian Stroeble, a senior Green party MP, said: "There are many reasons to demonstrate against George Bush. His plans for a war against Iraq and his government's refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol on the environment are but a few."

Other anti-Bush protests were held by the reform-Communist Party for Democratic Socialism (which strongly opposes US military intervention in Afghanistan), the anti-globalisation movement Attac and a broad coalition of environmentalist and peace groups called "Axis for peace." Philip Hersel, a spokesman for Attac, said: "We feel Chancellor Schröder is just as bad as Bush because he unquestioningly follows the line dictated by the American President."

One protester, teacher Christa Peter, 46, from Berlin said the demonstration "is not against Bush or his visit, but his war policy". She added: "This theory of the 'axis of evil' is dangerous, and allies like Germany need to take this opportunity to warn him."

Mr Bush is to make the first address by a US President to the German parliament and hold meetings with Chancellor Schröder and the President, Johannes Rau. In his speech, Mr Bush is expected to underline the importance of Europe's contribution to the war against terrorism and the role of Nato and Russia.

Condoleezza Rice, America's National Security Adviser, has demanded that Germany act to prevent Iraq from obtaining products that could help Saddam Hussein build weapons of mass-destruction.

The scale of the demonstrations yesterday obliged city authorities to put Berlin on a near-war footing. An unprecedented 10,000 police were drafted into seal the central area around the Brandenburg Gate and nearby Adlon hotel where Mr Bush will stay. He is bringing a 600-strong security team.

Police sharpshooters are on the top of buildings and divers are dredging the Spree river in search of bombs. The cost of the security operation was estimated at ?3m (£1.9m).

Chancellor Schröder warned protesters that any violence "would be met with the full force of the law". Joschka Fischer, his Green Party Foreign Minister, appealed to demonstrators to avoid violence. "Otherwise, completely the wrong message will be sent to our American friends."

The coverage given to Mr Bush's visit in the German press demonstrated growing public concern at his policies. A poll in Der Spiegel magazine showed 76 per cent of those questioned thought Washington "was too involved in the affairs of other countries". Only 19 per cent thought Mr Bush was doing a good job.

Germany's opposition parties have bitterly criticised the Greens and the reform-Communist PDS. "These parties are outdoing in each other in their anti-Americanism to garner votes from the far left," Guido Westerwelle, the leader of the liberal Free Democratic Party, said.

The right-wing Christian Democrat politician Roland Koch said: "I am both concerned and ashamed that some political parties intend to make Mr Bush's stay in Berlin as unpleasant as possible."

Two years ago, when Mr Bush's predecessor Bill Clinton visited Berlin, crowds applauded outside a fashionable city restaurant where Mr Clinton and Mr Schröder dined and swapped cigars.

Yesterday one of the few signs welcoming Mr Bush to Berlin was from Deutsche Telekom which superimposed a giant image of the White House on tarpaulins covering the Brandenburg Gate which is being renovated.

Agenda - Bush's itinerary

Today Berlin

President George Bush begins European trip, dining with the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder.

Tomorrow Berlin, Moscow

Makes keynote speech to the Reichstag on US-European relations. Joined by Laura Bush from Czech Republic. Travels to Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin.

Friday Moscow

Signs arms control treaty with President Putin in the Kremlin. Lays wreath at Tomb of Unknown Soldier.

Saturday St Petersburg

Visits President Putin's hometown, tours synagogue, church and museum.

Sunday Paris

Travels to France. Dines with President Jacques Chirac.

Monday Normandy, Rome

Commemorates Memorial Day by visiting US military cemetery at Omaha Beach. Meets Pope in Rome.

Tuesday 28 Rome

Attends Nato summit near Rome to sign Nato-Russia council agreement with Mr Putin and Nato secretary general, George Robertson. Returns to Washington.


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