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Italy Braced for Violence During Bush Visit
Published on Tuesday, June 1, 2004 by Reuters
Italy Braced for Violence During Bush Visit
by Philip Pullella
 

ROME - Italy's government wants U.S. President George Bush's visit to Rome to be a "thanksgiving" for allied help in a war that ended 60 years ago. But many Italians want to give Bush a drubbing for an unwanted war raging today.

That is the dilemma facing Italy's politicians and police forces as they prepare for a visit taking place in the shadow of the Iraq war and a growing pacifist movement.

Officials in Rome fear a repeat of the violent clashes that marred a G8 summit in the northern city of Genoa three years ago when one protester was killed by police and hundreds of activists and police were wounded.

The fear has become so thick that even former President Francesco Cossiga, traditionally a stout friend of the United States, wrote an open letter to Bush urging him to cancel the visit otherwise he would be "unjustly blamed" for the violence.

Another pro-American icon of Italy, former prime minister Giulio Andreotti, also questioned why Bush was coming at all.

Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu has said he was "concerned but not frightened" by what he called serious threats during the 36-hour visit that starts on Thursday night.

A preparatory meeting on Monday of police and military chiefs decided that reinforcements would be bussed in from other parts of Italy for the visit and for Republic Day on Wednesday. Tuesday's La Repubblica newspaper called the Bush security plan "the militarization" of the capital.

Some 10,000 uniformed police will be on hand and several big demonstrations are planned. But in the past few days Italy has been ripe with fears of the unexpected.

"There are groups that are preparing an exercise in violence and three days of provocations," said Massimo Brutti, a leftist senator who is on the secret services oversight committee.

OPPOSITION TO WAR

Most Italians oppose the war in Iraq and there have been many calls for Rome to withdraw its some 2,700 troops, the third-biggest contingent after the United States and Britain.

The opposition grew after 19 Italians were killed in Iraq in November and a private security guard killed in April.

"If a criminal of the caliber of Bush is given the red carpet treatment, then rage is the right reaction," said Luca Casarini, one of Italy's best-known anti-globalization figures.

After some hesitation, officials have allowed an anti-war demonstration to pass by Piazza Venezia, the sprawling square that hosts both the tomb of the unknown soldier and the building where wartime dictator Benito Mussolini thundered his dictats.

An initial plan for Bush to lay a wreath at the tomb -- as integral a part of a head of state's visit to Rome as eating pasta -- was scrapped for security reasons.

Officials hope the concession to use the piazza will release some of the pressure that had built up between pacifists and police because of the initial refusal.

Former Interior Minister Claudio Scajola, a close friend of Premier Silvio Berlusconi, said Bush should be welcomed "with trumpets and flags" because he is commemorating the liberation of Nazi-occupied Rome by allied soldiers on June 4, 1944.

But it is much more likely that Bush will see another type of flag while his motorcade travels through Rome.

Pacifists and Catholic groups are asking Italians to dust off the hundreds of thousands of peace flags that flew Italian balconies before the start of the Iraq war and fly them again during the Bush visit.

Reuters Ltd 2004

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