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Thousands turn out in Ireland to protest war as Bush arrives

ENNIS, IRELAND — ENNIS, Ireland - Despite generations of warm feelings between Americans and the Irish, President Bush received a less-than-hearty welcome when he set foot in Ireland yesterday, with thousands of protesters around the country demonstrating against his actions in Iraq.

Bush was stopping in Ireland for a one-day meeting with European Union leaders before traveling to Turkey for a summit with NATO leaders. The two visits will cap a monthlong diplomatic offensive by the president to heal wounds over the war in Iraq before concentrating his efforts in the summer and fall on winning re-election.

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With all sides expecting no significant progress toward new troop or financial commitments to assist U.S.-led forces in Iraq, the trip is increasingly seen as a struggle between local populations eager to register dismay with Washington's policies and a White House determined to avoid confrontation.

The stopover was Bush's first visit to Ireland, which generally greets U.S. presidents effusively, remembering the generations of Irish who fled famine and poverty to make new lives in the United States.

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But the Irish government has deployed 2,000 troops and 4,000 police officers to lock down access to Shannon Airport and nearby Dromoland Castle, the medieval fortress and exclusive golf resort in western Ireland where Bush was to spend the night and hold meetings today with EU leaders.

The first of those will be with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who greeted Bush at Dromoland and joined him for a walk in the rain as the day waned.

Local newspapers ran pictures of long lines of tanks rolling down Irish roads toward Shannon, where Bush touched down. News reports described the security operation as the largest in the country's history.

Thousands of protesters set up a camp outside the security cordon around Shannon, with local shops donating food and passing vehicles honking in solidarity. Naval vessels patrolled the nearby Shannon estuary, arresting three would-be protesters hoping to make their views known from offshore.

Other rallies - pointedly anti-Bush, not anti-American - took place in cities across Ireland, including Galway, Waterford, Tralee, Sligo and Dublin, where police estimated that 10,000 gathered in the city center, presided over by the city's new mayor, Michael Conaghan.

Major Irish papers appealed for moderation.

"For many of the demonstrators who will be out to greet President Bush to Ireland this evening and tomorrow, it will be equivalent to a visit from the Devil Incarnate," wrote the Irish Independent. "But whatever one thinks of the initial U.S. decision to invade ... reasoned debate is now more necessary than ever."

Still, the usual Irish-U.S. bonhomie appeared strained.

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"The Irish - devotees of Kennedy, skeptical admirers of Reagan, rapturous cheerleaders for Clinton - have fallen out of love with the American presidency," Stefanie Marsh wrote in a commentary in The Times of London. "In Ireland, an American president has for the first time become an overwhelming figure of hate."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.


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