Bush visits pope amid protests

Demonstrators converge on the Italian capital as US president meets the pontiff.

    Bush had his first private audience at the Vatican
    with Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday [AFP]

    Middle East focus

    The pope "did express deep concern about the Christians inside Iraq".

    The Vatican said in a statement that Benedict and Bush had discussed the Middle East and the pontiff's "hope for a regional and negotiated solution to the conflicts that afflict that region".

    Bush also told the pope about what he called "the very strong Aids initiative" at the G8.

    Police kept protesters at bay in Rome as
    Bush visited the Vatican [Reuters]

    The G8 world powers pledged $60bn to fight diseases ravaging Africa - although much of the sum was made up of existing pledges.

    Bush and the pontiff see eye to eye on ethical issues such as abortion and euthanasia but are divided over the war in Iraq.


    He told an Italian newspaper last week that his intention was "mainly to listen" to the pope.


    Bush and his wife Laura took a more different route to the Vatican than usual, which disappointed thousands waiting to see him.

     

    It was not clear if this was for security reasons, although 10,000 police were deployed as a precaution in central Rome.

     

    Violent protests

    Bush also held talks with Romano Prodi, Italy's centre-left prime minister, after which he called US-Italian ties "pretty darn solid".

    Prodi said that they did not discuss two embarrassing criminal trials under way in Italy involving CIA agents and a US marine.

    "We don't have any bilateral problems," Prodi said.

    As Bush met the pope and Prodi, Italian riot police used tear gas against demonstrators who donned face masks in defiance of a police order and threw bottles and other objects.

     

    Protesters were from leftist parties in addition
    to pacifist and ant-iwar groups [Reuters]

    The protesters disrupted an anti-globalisation demonstration that was reaching its conclusion in the centre of Rome.


    The violence broke out after Bush had concluded his official business for the day and had returned to the residence of the US ambassador, several miles away.

     

    Helicopters flew overhead and thousands of police were deployed around the Colosseum, the downtown Piazza Venezia and other venues to guard against violence.

     

    Masked demonstrators wearing black who had infiltrated the otherwise peaceful protest hurled objects at police.

     

    Other protesters later tried to stand between the violent elements and the police, putting up their arms to prevent further violence.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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