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Demonstrators Clash with Police as Bush Arrives in Berlin - 2002-05-22


President George W. Bush's arrival in Germany was marked by violent demonstrations late Wednesday, as anarchists clashed with police in Berlin. But the president was kept far away from the trouble and would have noticed nothing.

All day Wednesday, Berlin was on number one security alert, as 10,000 policemen prepared for President Bush's visit.

Divers searched for bombs in the River Spree which runs through the centre of the city close to historic Reichstag building where Mr. Bush will address the German Parliament Thursday, and security personnel checked every gate or lamp-post for hidden devices.

But for most of the day, attention was concentrated on the demonstrations planned for the afternoon and evening. Water cannon were stationed outside the Adlon Hotel where the president will be staying. Additional manpower, drafted in from all over Germany joined the capital city's police force in lining the streets, ready to prevent anyone without a pass entering the city centre.

At first, thousands of people marched through the city in peaceful protest at American policies, chanting slogans, brandishing banners accusing Mr. Bush of terrorism or waving Palestinian flags. There were speeches, music, symbolically laden pretzels for sale, even an ecumenical prayer meeting where priests and clerics from major world religions prayed together for peace.

But then, just before nightfall and just after the President landed, the mood turned ugly. A relatively small group of people the authorities here call anarchists clashed with police as they sealed off the main road into the city centre, Berlin's famous Unter den Linden.

The rioters ignored appeals from the organisers of the demonstration to go home peacefully. Bottles and stones were hurled at police, at reporters and at anyone who got in the way. One Japanese TV reporter was cut in the face with a bottle and had to be rushed to hospital.

Smoke hung in the air from where protesters had burned the American flag. Police reported several arrests.

But with the city centre totally closed to the public, President Bush joined German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit for a quiet state dinner in the book-lined literary café "Theodor Tucher" opposite to Mr. Bush's hotel.

With the demonstrators and rioters hundreds of meters away, the leaders were free to discuss the real topics of the visit.

On their informal agenda were disagreements over steel quotas and farm subsidies, but also the war against terrorism, and a new situation in which Germany is contributing combat troops and naval personnel to U.S.-led war against terrorists in Afghanistan.

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