The Italian government is taking massive security measures for President Bush's visit Friday to Rome to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the city's liberation by allied troops in World War II.
Anti-war activists are planning massive demonstrations, and Americans in Italy have been warned of the potential for violence during Mr. Bush's visit.
Anti-war protests in Rome began to coincide with Italy's national holiday, Republic Day, but no serious incidents were reported. Demonstrators unfurled rainbow-colored peace flags and chanted "Bush Go Home." Mr. Bush arrives in the Italian capital on Friday.
President Bush will be meeting with Italian leaders and will visit the site of the Ardeatine Caves, where 335 civilians were executed by Nazi forces in World War II. He will also have a private audience with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.
His visit coincides with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Rome by allied troops in 1944.
Mr. Bush has come to Rome on state visits twice before, but this is his first since the United States launched the war in Iraq.
The pope voiced strong opposition to the Iraqi war before and after the start of the conflict, but Vatican officials say discussions will address how to best cooperate to rebuild a sovereign country. The U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, James Nicholson, said he expects the president and the pope will have a meaningful exchange on Iraq, the Middle East and terrorism.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he hoped Italians would use Mr. Bush's visit to show their gratitude for allied help in the war. But Italians are expected to turn out in large numbers to protest U.S. policies in Iraq. A massive anti-war demonstration has been planned for Friday by an alliance of anti-globalization groups, the Greens and Communists.
"We want nothing to do with the Bush administration," says Antonio Di Pietro, former magistrate. "Italians love and respect Americans, but do not want to see democracy being exported with war because violence only generates more violence."
The government has mobilized 10,000 troops and riot police to ensure law and order on the streets. The U.S. embassy in Rome warned Americans of the potential for violence and advised them to avoid areas where protesters will congregate.
But one of the organizers, Green leader Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, says the demonstration will not be violent.
"We are asking everybody to refrain from violence," he said. "The demonstrators, including the Greens from the United States will go to the cemetery to honor the Anglo-Americans who died to free Italy from Nazi-fascism. We are friends of the Americans, but against war and torture."
According to the results of a poll released this week, 54 percent of Italians consider Mr. Bush's visit ill-timed. Many Italians feel the government should pull its 2,700 troops out of Iraq.