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Thousands Protest Bush's Visit to Rome - 2004-06-04

Thousands turned out in Rome Friday for anti-war demonstrations to coincide with President Bush's visit to Rome. But no major violence was reported, as had been feared by the Italian government.

As the presidential visit got under way, there was none of the usual weekday traffic in Rome. It was more like a lazy Sunday, except for the thousands of police officers patrolling the streets.

Many Italians decided to leave their cars at home, and some did not go to work at all. Use of public transport dropped 50 percent.

A series of spontaneous demonstrations were held in various parts of the Italian capital in the morning, but only minor incidents were reported. Some protesters threw firecrackers, others set fire to trash cans, a few windows were smashed and a number of roads were blocked.

Thousands gathered in the city center in the afternoon for a large anti-war demonstration. They called for "Bush to Go Home," and waved rainbow-colored peace flags. Charlotte Ferrier joined part of the demonstration.

"I'm really not happy about Bush's visit to Rome," she said. "I think a lot of it, he's using as propaganda, especially his visit to the Vatican. It's political propaganda. It goes against Christian teaching. What he's done in Iraq and his photo opportunity with the pope is completely wrong, and I don't think he should have come to Rome."

Ten thousand police officers, almost equal in number to the demonstrators, were on hand to avoid violence. The demonstration was peaceful for the most part, but some masked protesters at the end threw bottles at riot police, who did not respond.

Jessica Lavigne from Canada also participated in the demonstration.

"I'm very impressed by the security surrounding this demonstration, 'cause they're only standing there watching, and they're not acting on anything that's happening, and I think that is the proper way to be," said Jessica Lavigne. "This is a peaceful demonstration and the police are realizing that."

After Mr. Bush dined with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi Friday evening, the two leaders were to hold talks on Saturday before Mr. Bush flies to France to take part in D-Day ceremonies Sunday.