Street Protests Greet Bush in Brazil

The Associated Press
Friday, March 9, 2007; 12:40 AM

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- President Bush sought to reverse an impression of U.S. neglect as he opened a weeklong tour of Latin America on Thursday. Police clashed with protesters in Brazil and across the region.

Bush arrived in South America's largest city in the evening on a mission intended to promote democracy, increased trade and cooperation on alternative fuels. The president and his advisers also hoped his visit would offset the growing influence of leftist leaders, such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

As he flew here on Air Force One, Bush's national security adviser brushed aside Chavez's provocations. "The president is going to do what he's been doing for a long time: talk about a positive agenda," said Stephen Hadley.

Police battled students, environmentalists and left-leaning Brazilians, some waving communist flags, ahead of Bush's visit. Riot police fired tear gas and beat some protesters with batons after more than 6,000 people held a largely peaceful march through the financial district. And in the southern city of Porto Alegre, more than 500 people yelled, "Get out, imperialist!" as they burned an effigy of Bush outside a Citigroup Inc. bank branch.

Meanwhile, the police commander of Colombia, which Bush will visit on Sunday, said authorities had thwarted leftist rebel plans to disrupt Bush's visit to Bogota. "We have taken measures to neutralize them," said Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro, Colombia's highest-ranking police officer.

Also in Colombia, at Bogota's National University, 200 masked students clashed with 300 anti-riot police and shouted: "Out, Bush." And in Mexico City, about two dozen demonstrators gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy chanting slogans against the U.S. project to construct border fences and Bush's visit.

There were no visible signs of protesters along Bush's motorcade route in the nearly hourlong drive from the airport to his hotel.

Reacting to Thursday's demonstrations, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Bush "enjoys traveling to thriving democracies where freeom of speech and expression are the law of the land." Bush himself played down expected protests in interviews ahead of his trip with Latin American news organizations.

"I am proud to be going to a part of the world where people can demonstrate, where people can express their minds," he said in an interview with Univision. And he told CNN En Espanol: "The trip is to remind people that we care."

Chavez, aligned with Cuba's Fidel Castro and a fierce critic of Bush, is marking Bush's trip with a rival tour of the region.

On Saturday, the Venezuelan leader will speak at an "anti-imperialist" rally in a soccer stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, about 40 miles across the Plate River from Montevideo, where Bush will be holding talks with Uruguay's president, Tabare Vazquez.

Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, told reporters that instead of worrying about Chavez, Bush was "going to be focusing on those countries and those leaders that have the right model and the right ideas for a better Latin America."

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