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Welcoming for a War Criminal in Canada

Activists Protest George W. Bush in Edmonton

EDMONTON - While former U.S. president George W. Bush talked about democracy inside a downtown Edmonton conference centre on Tuesday, hundreds of protesters were outside exercising their right to free speech with signs, songs and screams.

Protestors shout at people going into the Shaw Conference Centre to hear former U.S. President George W. Bush speak in Edmonton Alberta on Tuesday. (Photograph by: John Lucas, Edmonton Journal) "Stop the killing, stop the war," the protesters chanted to the beat of a drum. They held signs that said "Bush is a war criminal;" "Bush lied, 1,000s died;" and "Canada is not Bush Country."

Several dozen police officers kept protesters away from the front of the Shaw Conference Centre and as the crowd grew, metal barricades went up between the police and the crowd.

Marilyn Gaa, who holds both American and Canadian citizenship, held a three-metre-tall black-clad Grim Reaper with a sign on his back that said: "GWB I am your biggest fan" and on the front, "Thanks for 8 great years."

"For the eight years that George Bush was president I was profoundly ashamed and alarmed and angry and now it seems so unfair that he's making a world tour trying to share his 'wisdom' and make a lot of money," said Gaa.

Edmonton businessman Aroon Sequeira saw it differently.

"I think people are entitled to voice their opinions and I'm equally interested in hearing what president Bush has to say inside."

Carolyn Nelner was one of only a handful of people supporting Bush, and she said she got an earful from those against the former president.

"Bush may not be perfect, but I tell you, if they were in a terrorist act, they wouldn't be here protesting against that."

Maria Marsh, along with her 11-month-old daughter Shanaea, joined in the protest, although the little girl was more interested in the sign her mom was carrying.

"I think we shouldn't be having a war criminal here, we should have a government that's anti-terrorism, anti-war, and I figured I had to lend my voice to the uproar," Marsh said.

All 2,000 tickets ranging from $30 to more than $100 each to "A Conversation with George Bush" sold out, and security was extremely tight - those with tickets had to show them at the door to gain entry, then show them again before going downstairs to the ballroom where Bush was speaking.

Before getting into the ballroom, there was a mandatory coat check, and then an airport-type screening where purses and pocket contents went into a grey bin and were searched, while their owners went through a metal screener.

Bush received a standing ovation when he was introduced.

He warmed up the crowd by describing how, 20 days after leaving the Oval Office, he was walking his dog Barney in his Texas neighbourhood for the first time, "a plastic bag on one hand, picking up what I had dodged for eight years."

The former president talked about how Canada is a great friend to the United States and thanked Canadians for their involvement in the war in Afghanistan.

"Canadians have disproportionately shouldered the load ... I know the Canadian people are showing great patience in the theatre of war."

The 43rd president also expressed concern about nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran, adding the former is more worrisome because Iran is more open than North Korea.

Bush said he was also very worried about Pakistan and its government being toppled by extremists because the country has an established nuclear program.

Three people were escorted out of the hall during Bush's appearance after yelling out but it's not known if they were arrested or charged. Police say there were no arrests during the outdoor protest.

There were similar protests earlier this year when Bush made appearances in Calgary and Toronto.

Bush is speaking in Saskatoon on Wednesday and Montreal on Thursday. Protests are planned in both locations.

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