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Irish Batten Down Hatches for Big Anti-Bush Demonstrations
Published on Friday, June 25, 2004 by the Guardian/UK
Irish Batten Down Hatches for Bush
US president's visit expected to provoke big demonstrations
by Angelique Chrisafis
 

Every summer since the invention of the jet, Ireland has been invaded by Americans. The country of "a hundred thousand welcomes" regularly opens its arms to its transatlantic cousins, whose investment has fueled its economic boom.

But this weekend's visit by George Bush, the US president, has turned tradition on its head. Irish lawyers have signed a petition against Mr Bush and suggested he should be arrested as soon as he arrives. Clerics have questioned the president's morals and the leader of the Irish senate has boycotted a US embassy dinner to mark his visit. Anti-war protesters say they are being censored by a government desperate to keep a lid on demonstrations. The terrorism risk has resulted in the biggest security operation in the country's history.


Irish Army troops deploy Scorpion Tanks around Shannon Airport ahead of this week's visit of U.S. President Bush to Ireland, June 24, 2004. Photo by Paul Mcerlane/Reuters
Such is the furore that Bertie Ahern, the Irish prime minister, wrote a newspaper column on Ireland's close ties with the US in an attempt to calm it all down.

Mr Bush arrives tonight at the picturesque 16th century Dromoland castle in County Clare. He will spend about 16 hours in Ireland, rising early on Saturday for an EU-US summit hosted by Mr Ahern as part of Ireland's EU presidency.

Normally this would be a routine date in the presidential calendar. But the handover of sovereignty to Iraq next Wednesday will take precedence over the other topics for discussion, including Afghanistan, trade and the global Aids epidemic.

Washington has kept a close eye on Ireland's presidency and believes Mr Ahern has helped to calm tensions between the EU and US. Mr Bush is expected to use his meetings, first with Mr Ahern, then with Romano Prodi, Javier Solana and other EU commissioners, to seek greater commitment to Iraq. He will then fly to Turkey for a Nato summit.

Ireland's anti-war lobby is angry that the country, famed for its neutrality, is allowing US military aircraft to refuel at Shannon airport and Baldonnel airfield near Dublin on their way to Iraq.

More than 55,000 troops have passed through Shannon on almost 1,000 flights this year. Mary Kelly, a nurse, has been charged with causing $1.5m (£824,300) of damage after taking a hatchet to a US navy plane at Shannon. She faces a retrial in the autumn after a jury failed to reach a verdict on her case.

The liberal establishment is fuming that Mr Bush might use his visit to Ireland for electioneering. Ireland is a favorite location for US presidents seeking re-election and, as one Irish journalist put it, "looking statesmanlike in a pretty Irish castle" will do no harm to Mr Bush's efforts to appeal to an estimated 34.3 million people of Irish descent at home. Bill Clinton was greeted like a film star when he visited Ireland, but Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon met protests.

Mary O'Rourke, leader of the Irish senate, said she had turned down the US embassy dinner to mark Mr Bush's visit. She said: "I have no animosity for the US but I have animosity for the president who pushed through the war policy in the absence of a UN mandate."

More than 170 Irish lawyers signed a petition against Mr Bush this week. Fergal Kavanagh, who was defense counsel for a Rwandan government minister accused of war crimes at the UN tribunal, said Mr Bush should be arrested by Irish police when his plane lands if it emerged that he had knowledge of the torture of prisoners in Iraq.

Brendan Nix, a barrister, said: "I find the thought that President Bush will use Ireland to get re-elected very disturbing."

Church leaders of various denominations have added their voices to the opposition.

Anti-Bush protests have been gathering momentum for weeks. The Irish folk singer Christy Moore has recorded an anti-Bush single with Damien Rice called Lonely Soldier. Proceeds will help the anti-war movement. White peace flags have gone up around Dublin, which will be the venue for a big anti-war protest tonight.

Tomorrow protesters will rally near Dromoland castle and march to Shannon airport, from where Mr Bush is due to depart. But the Irish Anti-War Movement is considering legal action against the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland after its adverts were taken off air.

Six thousand police and Irish army personnel and nearly 1,000 US and private security guards have shut down a swath of County Clare, sealing manholes, building security fences and sparking rumors that local a golf course is being scoured with metal detectors. Some indignant residents issued with passes and forced to name all those living in their homes have likened it to life under the notorious Black and Tans, British police auxiliaries of the 1920s.

Mr Ahern said this week Ireland must welcome Mr Bush as the US has invested $4.7 bn (£2.58bn) in Ireland last year.

But Greg Duff, the Labour mayor of Shannon, said economic arguments were a smokescreen.

He said: "George Bush is a menace. He should not be coming to Shannon. In Clare, we're not anti-US. We greet Americans well as tourists but we don't like to see them arriving in uniform."

Meetings and demos

Today

7pm Stop Bush mass protest in Dublin with simultaneous demonstrations at Shannon airport and in Galway, Waterford, Tralee and Sligo

8:15pm George Bush lands at Shannon airport and travels by helicopter to Dromoland castle, where he has a 700-strong entourage. After dinner hosted by Bertie Ahern, he is expected to have an early night.

Tomorrow

9:45am Bush meets Irish president Mary McAleese

10am The weekend's biggest demonstration organized by the Stop Bush Campaign will rally near Dromoland castle then march to Shannon airport.

10:55 After a meeting with Ahern, Bush attends EU-US summit with Ahern, Romano Prodi and Javier Solana

1:40pm Bush gives a press conference

2:30pm The president leaves Shannon airport for a Nato summit in Turkey

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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