ROME - Opponents of the war in Iraq unfurled peace flags from Rome's bridges, put hoods on statues and chanted "Bush Go Home" on Wednesday two days before the U.S. president makes a controversial visit to Italy.
The demonstrations took place in various parts of the Italian capital as political leaders attended the annual Republic Day military parade under tight security.
The demonstrators, who have dubbed themselves "The Disobedient," held their own march nearby but police in riot gear were on hand to keep them away from the parade route.
Protesters, including some leftist parliamentarians, chanted "Peace Now!," "Troops Out of Iraq!" and "Italy hates war."
Bush told Italian state television he valued freedom of speech and was not afraid of protests during his Rome visit.
"I have no problem with people who say they don't agree. I think it (demonstrating) is a healthy thing," he said.
Some 25 people were detained in Rome after minor scuffles with military police. Further north in Bologna, violence escalated as police wielding batons beat back protesters who broke through barricades at an anti-war demonstration.
This year's Rome parade, in which military, police and volunteer units marched as planes flew overhead, has taken on added controversy because of the war in Iraq.
Italy is braced for violence over Bush's visit and 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.
Most Italians opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last year and there have been many calls for Rome to withdraw its some 2,700 troops, the third-biggest contingent to U.S.-led occupation forces in Iraq after the United States and Britain.
"It is shameful, a provocation, for Bush to come here. Italy does not want him, he is a friend of the Italian government, not the Italian people," said Margarita Gaetani, a 57-year-old architect who wrapped herself in a rainbow peace flag.
She pledged to return on Friday to protest against Bush.
Plumed soldiers marched on Via dei Fori Imperiali (Way of the Imperial Forums), the broad boulevard that wartime dictator Benito Mussolini built over ancient ruins to review troops.
At the same time, demonstrators unfurled peace flags from ancient bridges and pulled a black hood over the statue of an angel to protest against the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq.
They re-enacted scenes of the prisoner abuse which has inflamed the Arab world and embarrassed the United States by revealing the ugly side of its occupation.
Other banners read "Liberate Rome from Bush." Bush's visit will mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi-occupied Rome by allied forces.
Security chiefs considered the parade, which was attended by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a dress rehearsal for the Bush visit, when about 10,000 uniformed police will be on hand.
Some 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.
Opposition to the Iraq war grew after 19 Italians died there in November and a security guard was killed in April.
© Copyright Reuters 2004