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Bush to leave Italy, head for France

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Bush awards John Paul II the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

CNN's Dana Bash on the opening of the president's trip to Italy.

CNN's Alessio Vinci on Bush's trip to Europe.
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ROME, Italy (CNN) -- After inspiring antiwar protests in Italy, President Bush heads to France Saturday to meet in Paris with President Jacques Chirac who opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

The two leaders will join others at a ceremony in Normandy Sunday to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that dealt a decisive blow to Nazi Germany.

While in France, Bush also will meet German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who joined Chirac in opposing the Iraq war.

Britain's Prince Charles, whose country is a staunch U.S. ally in the war, will also attend the Normandy ceremonies.

White House officials have said Bush's focus in Europe is to build as much international support as possible for Iraq's fragile political transition.

Before he leaves Italy Saturday, Bush will meet for a second time with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Afterward, the two men will hold a news conference.

Berlusconi committed troops to the conflict despite the opposition of a majority of Italians. Twenty Italian soldiers and four civilians have been killed in the war.

Thousands of demonstrators marched through Rome Friday to protest Bush's presence and Italy's participation in the war.

Protesters swarmed the streets of central Rome after Bush met with Pope John Paul II, one of the war's strongest critics.

Authorities deployed 10,000 police in strategic sites in anticipation of violence. The crowd was boisterous but relatively peaceful.

The protests took place at the Piazza Venezia, the site of Italy's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Bush had been scheduled to lay a wreath at the tomb, but those plans had to be scrapped for security reasons.

Bush instead laid a wreath at Fosse Ardeatine, the site of a World War II atrocity in which Nazis occupying Italy killed 335 men and boys, many of them Jews.

The president's visit marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Rome from the Nazis.

Earlier, Bush met with the pope, presenting the aged pontiff with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. honor given to civilians.

After a brief photo opportunity for the press, Bush and the pope began a private meeting, which was followed by public statements from both men and the award presentation.

In his remarks, the pope expressed his concern for the situation in the Middle East and called for the speedy return of Iraq's sovereignty.

In a wavering voice and with the paper in his hands shaking, the pope told Bush that the international community must be included in further dealings with Iraq, but he addressed his long-held opposition to the war only in passing.

"Mr. President, your visit to Rome takes place at a moment of great concern for the continuing situation of grave unrest in the Middle East, both in Iraq and in the Holy Land," he said.

"It is the evident desire of everyone that this situation now be normalized as quickly as possible with the active participation of the international community and, in particular, the United Nations organization, in order to ensure a speedy return of Iraq's sovereignty, in conditions of security for all its people."

The appointment of a new government in Iraq, he said, is a step in the right direction.

In an apparent reference to the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison, the pope said that "other deplorable events have come to light which have troubled the civic and religious conscience of all and made more difficult a serene and resolute commitment to shared human values."

"In the absence of such a commitment, neither war nor terrorism will ever be overcome," he said.

The pope singled out Bush's "commitment to the promotion of moral values in American society" for praise, "particularly with regard to respect for life and the family."

The pope shares Bush's opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriages.

The pope praised Bush's humanitarian efforts in Africa and expressed his hope that the United States and Europe will gain "a fuller and deeper understanding" to resolve "the great problems which I have mentioned as well as so many others confronted by humanity today."

CNN's John King and Alessio Vinci contributed to this report.

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