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Germany braces for Bush protests

Berlin police braces itself for possible violence during Bush's trip  

BERLIN, Germany -- Germany has launched a huge security operation as the country braces for mass demonstrations against the visit of President George W. Bush.

About 10,000 heavily equipped police officers are being deployed throughout Berlin -- a post-war record for a state guest -- in a bid to contain tens of thousands of demonstrators expected to protest against U.S. policies on trade, the environment, the Middle East and a possible U.S. strike against Iraq.

Up to 100 protests are planned across the country during Bush's 20-hour visit which begins on Wednesday evening, marking a turnaround in European public opinion from shocked sympathy after the September 11 attacks to anger over perceived U.S. warmongering and protectionism.

About 20,000 protesters marched peacefully through eastern Berlin on Tuesday, the eve of Bush's visit, chanting "Yankee go home" and waving banners reading "No blood for oil" and "Axis of Evil runs through the Pentagon."

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"We're not against America -- I have many friends there. We're against the warmonger Bush," protester Ralf Rippel told Reuters news agency.

His colleague Gerhard Kreissig said: "Bush should be put in front of a war crimes tribunal."

More protests are planned over the coming days.

Several hundred pro-U.S. demonstrators also paraded at the former U.S.-run border crossing between East and West Berlin, dubbed Checkpoint Charlie.

The president is expected to use a keynote speech to the German Parliament, the Bundestag, during his visit to underscore the need for continued cooperation in the U.S.-led war on terrorism and to explain his policies and decisions.

Germans and other Europeans have become increasingly concerned over the aggressive stance the U.S. has adopted toward Iraq, Iran and North Korea as well as a range of other administration policies.

Bush's visit to Berlin came as British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he saw it as his "task" to stop politicians creating a rift between America and Europe.

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In an interview with London-based Times newspaper, Blair said: "There will always be people on both sides of the Atlantic who want to pull Europe and America apart.

"There are some in America who simply dismiss Europe as not serious and some in Europe whose voices border on being anti-American... Despite the difficulties, the sensible majority understand that what we have in common is far more important than what divides us."

He also claimed anti-American voices in Europe were "... to do with jealousy about America's position, worry about American culture dominating European culture and also because America is the world superpower and anyone who is pre-eminent always takes a bit of flak."

The reception demonstrators give to Bush is expected to be in contrast to the warm welcome the city extended to Russian President Vladimir Putin last month.

Calling themselves an "Axis of Peace," the protesters say their demonstration will be non-violent and include about 200 organisations, including peace activists, anti-globalisation protesters, and human rights groups.

The "Axis of Peace" said in a statement: "The right to self-defence that the U.S. government claimed after Sept. 11 has long turned into a pretext for waging war."

Under the slogan "We don't want your wars -- we don't want any wars," they are protesting against the Bush administration's perceived tendency towards aggression overseas.

Thomas Risse, an international relations professor at the Free University of Berlin, told The Associated Press: "The perception is that there is an ongoing struggle inside the (U.S.) administration between people who think they can do all this alone... and a group that thinks the war on terrorism cannot be won without partners.

"The question is where does the president stand on this? I think that is what people want to hear," he added.

The Greens Party -- junior partners in Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's coalition government -- issued a statement declaring support for many of the protesters' concerns.

"We have substantial and increasing criticism of the policy developments of the U.S. administration over the past months," the party said.

Fischer was quoted by Reuters news agency as telling German Radio: "It is in everyone's interest that the demonstrations remain peaceful, otherwise the message transported will be different from the one intended... Ugly anti-American images would be sent across the Atlantic."

The U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Dan Coats, said Bush planned to use his speech in the Bundestag, to talk about cooperation and to explain U.S. policies and decisions over the last months.

"It's an opportunity for the president to address not only the German public but the European public," Coats told AP.

As well as Germany, Bush's six-day tour will take in Russia, France and Italy.

The centrepiece of his week-long trip comes on Friday when Bush and Putin sign a nuclear arms reduction treaty cutting the deployed strategic nuclear warheads from the world's biggest nuclear powers by two-thirds over the next decade.

In France, Bush will visit Paris and the Normandy beaches, while in Rome he will visit the Vatican.


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