Speaking to Turkish television on Friday, ahead of his arrival for talks with the country's leaders and for next week's NATO summit, Bush said he was impatient to touch down in Turkey.

 

"I am really looking forward to it," he said. "I have never been to Turkey before. All my friends who have been there say it is a fantastic country. I do know that your people are very warm and friendly."

Yet waves of protests opposing his visit, widespread criticism of the US and its policies in the region - and a series of bomb attacks - have made it clear in recent days that Turks are hot under the collar about Bush, rather than warmly welcoming.

Prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq last year, opinion polls showed that 83% of Turks opposed their government either sending troops or allowing Washington to base soldiers on Turkish soil.

More than 15 months on, and only days before power is handed over to an interim Iraqi government, there appears to have been no shift in opinion.

Anti-Bush opposition

Although Turks resent having a war on their doorstep, oppose Washington's unwavering support for Israel against the Palestinians, and are aghast at any perceived direction of Turkish policy from the US, it is the disruption to daily lives brought on by the NATO summit and Bush's visit that they feel most strongly about.

 

"The Americans bring war, conflict and bloodshed everywhere they go," said taxi driver Mehmet Dinc, hours after a bomb attack in Istanbul on Thursday left four dead and 21 wounded.

Recent violence in Turkey is
blamed on US policies in Iraq

 

"His [Bush's] coming here will do nothing but bring chaos. They promised to fight terrorism and they only caused more of it. We don’t want him."

Cengiz Bozkurt, the owner of a musical instrument repair business located close to the centre of Istanbul, site of the NATO summit, is also less than warm to the Bush visit.

"I don’t want Bush to come to my country," Bozkurt said. "No one wants him here. We do not like his policies or the effect that his policies have on us."

Bozkurt pointed to support for anti-Bush petitions circulating around the country as a measure of how unpopular the US president's visit to the country is.

"I believe the campaign to stop Bush coming to Turkey has collected more signatures than any other in the history of the country," he said.

 

"This shows how we feel about Iraq and all the broken promises. Bush is a murderer and so was his father."

 

City lockdown

 

Bozkurt also doubts that any country could have done as much as Turkey to lock down the city hosting the NATO summit, thereby disrupting the livelihood of its citizens.

 

"The government is closing off roads, cutting transport, banning us from travelling in our own city, all because of Bush," he said, unsure if he would be able to reach his shop during Bush's visit.

 

"They (the US) are dictating to us here. They should hold this summit in America."

Turkish police have cordoned off
many areas of central Istanbul

 

Aysegul Manav, who lives less than a kilometre from the summit venue, feels she is a prisoner in her own home; armed police patrol newly blocked streets and helicopters hover overhead.

 

"It is almost impossible to get out for even the most basic chores," she said. "It takes me two to three hours to get to work when it usually takes 25 minutes. It is wrong that everyone's lives should be disrupted just for one man."

 

Traditional allies

 

Yet despite public feeling on the issue, Turkey and the US have long enjoyed close relations. The US is a major advocate of Turkey's future European Union membership and sees Turkey as a vital strategic partner in the region.

Washington has also long possessed military facilities in the country, with use of the Turkish airbase at Incirlik an important part of its logistical operation supporting US-led occupation forces in Iraq.

These close ties took a beating last year when Turkey’s parliament rejected a US request to use Turkey as a launch pad for the invasion of Iraq. Further souring ties was the arrest of a dozen Turkish soldiers in the northern Iraqi city of Sulemaniye by US forces who alleged that the Turks were training Iraqi Turkomen militia.

 

But Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan's inclusion by the US at the G8 summit of the world's richest nations earlier this month shows how relations are now gaining strength.

 

Losing friends?

 

Berkunt Basoglu, an assistant manager at a small hotel catering to foreigners, laments the damage that Bush's visit and its violent consequence will have on Turkey’s image and the tourism industry it enjoys.

Bush welcomed Turkish PM Recep
Erdogan (L) to the G8 summit

 

"Bush causes terror wherever he goes," Basoglu said outside his near empty hotel.

 

"Turkey has suffered enough already because of the US."

 

"First there was the war in Iraq, and then we became a target for al-Qaida because of the US and now this. Why hold the summit here?"

 

In Bush's television interview he described Erdogan as a personal friend. Were he to walk out on the streets of Istanbul, the US president might be surprised to find he doesn’t have too many of those in his country's closest Muslim ally.