U.S. President George W. Bush, left, meets with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at Quirinale Palace in Rome, Italy on Thursday, June 12, 2008. (AP / Evan Vucci)
A demonstrator shouts slogans on a street cordoned off by police leading to the U.S. embassy in Rome, during an anti-Bush protest on Wednesday, June 11, 2008. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
ROME -- President Bush can look forward to a hearty welcome from his old friend, the charismatic Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, and Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Rome. That's not what was found on the streets, however, where anti-Bush sentiment over the war in Iraq still lingers.
Anti-war activists and hundreds of other demonstrators marched through the Italian capital on Wednesday as Bush arrived for a visit that was to include meetings with Berlusconi on Thursday and the pope on Friday.
The president, as usual, kept about his business. His encountered scant signs of protest on his motorcade route on Thursday.
At the elegant hillside Villa Aurelia, part of the American Academy in Rome, Bush met with Italian entrepreneurs and encouraged young people to come get the "firsthand truth about America." He disputed what he called misinformation and propaganda about the United States.
"We're a compassionate, open country that cares about people ... We love the entrepreneurial spirit," Bush said.
*snickers* BWAAAA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA..... *Hack cough gag*
Security is extremely tight for Bush's two-day stay in Rome. Commercial flights have been banned over the city. Dozens of buses and trams have been rerouted. Thousands of policemen have been deployed as part of a plan to monitor any further protests, though Wednesday's march drew far fewer demonstrators than previous visits by Bush.Quote has been trimmed
Slovenia and Germany, the first two stops on Bush's trip, were devoid of demonstrators. That was evidence that trans-Atlantic relations, fractured over the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq, are on the mend, that European leaders have moved beyond their anger over the war. The Rome protests are evidence that the Italian public still opposes the Bush administration.
Unlike other European leaders, such as former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and former French President Jacques Chirac, Berlusconi supported Bush on Iraq from the start. The 71-year-old media mogul defied domestic opposition and dispatched about 3,000 troops to Iraq after the fall of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Those troops came home, and Berlusconi, recently elected to his third stint in power since 1994, has pledged not to send any back.
More than 2,000 Italian troops, however, are deployed as part of the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.