Anti-Bush protests subside in Uruguay; Colombia tense ahead of visit

Police and protesters clash during 6,000-strong march Thursday in Brazil; activists smash windows and burned tires in Montevideo.

bush 88 (photo credit: )
bush 88
(photo credit: )
About 150 anti-US demonstrators marched through the Uruguayan capital in a relatively calm interlude to protests across Latin America in recent days against the presence of US President George W. Bush. The peaceful demonstration Saturday came after police and some protesters clashed during a 6,000-strong march Thursday in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and activists smashed windows and burned tires Friday in Montevideo, the first two stops of the five-country tour. In the Colombian capital of Bogota, where Bush is scheduled for a six-hour stop Sunday, military gunships streaked overhead and snipers took rooftop perches for the highest-security stop on his five-nation tour. Although Bush's visit to meet with conservative President Alvaro Uribe, a staunch US ally, was to be the shortest stopover on the trip, it clearly was one of the most worrisome given the backdrop of the Andean nation's decades-old civil war and battles against cocaine traffickers. Some 7,000 police and troops had already blocked off large parts of the Bogota, while 14,000 reinforcements set up roadblocks, checked IDs and searched vehicles in the capital's outskirts. A relaxed-looking Bush spent Saturday in talks with Uruguay's moderate leftist President Tabare Vazquez. Both leaders went tieless to the meeting before digging into a roast lamb barbecue at a presidential retreat in southwestern Uruguay. Meanwhile, first lady Laura Bush toured a 17th-century fort and the historic city of Colonia de Sacramento on the River Plate estuary. "We admire the United States," said Graciela Muttes, a Uruguayan who held up an American flag in greeting - in contrast to demonstrators who burned such flags in protest elsewhere in the last week. "Despite what you hear, we want to show that we are not all violent and don't go around with faces masked, throwing stones." The day before, as the Bushes flew to Uruguay, some 5,000 people marched peacefully in Montevideo. But hooded demonstrators on the fringes of the protest smashed windows of three fast-food restaurants, vandalized stores and roughed up some bystanders. Some criticized police and Uruguayan Interior Minister Daisy Tourney for failing to act more quickly against small radical groups. The clashes involving small knots of agitators subsided only early Saturday after police detained 20 suspects. Saturday evening some 150 people marched peacefully toward the residence of U.S. Ambassador Frank Baxter, where Bush was being feted at a reception. "Down with the Genocidal Killer Bush" read one banner carried by the protesters, who spray-painted a bank with a message "Confront the Empire." No serious incidents were reported. Guatemala, Bush's next stop after Colombia, was also bracing itself to host the US president. Some 500 people marched through the capital, burning American flags and chanting anti-Bush slogans while thousands of troops stood guard. Two American warplanes rattled windows as they flew nearby. Paraguay and El Salvador, two countries not even on the Bush tour, also saw small demonstrations protesting Bush and U.S. policies such as Washington's push for increased free trade. Guadalupe Erazo turned out for the El Salvador protest wearing a red T-shirt emblazoned with the emblem of a guerrilla-group-turned-political party. "The devil is loose in Latin America," she said, "pretending to be popular."