Over 10,000 Protesters welcome Bush

By Arijit Ghosh and Gemma Daley

 Australian police clad in riot gear faced 10,000 demonstrators in downtown Sydney protesting against a visit by U.S. President George W. Bush.

Protesters gathered at Sydney Town Hall today and marched toward the city’s Hyde Park, where helicopters hovered, police vans blocked streets and a water cannon was on standby. Bush, Chinese President Hu Jintao and leaders from 19 other economies have gathered in Australia’s biggest city for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.

“There are no leaders here, so I thought I would bring one,” said Jon Lewis, a protester carrying a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi. “Howard and Bush are just cowboys.”

Demonstrators carrying banners that said “save Iraq, disarm America” and “drop Bush, not bombs,” were protesting against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, climate change and labor rights. About 100 protesters yesterday dropped their trousers in a “21-bum salute” to APEC leaders.

Protesters were also seen carrying banners asking Bush to help end military rule in Thailand as well as against China’s human rights record. Another banner said: “I don’t believe in anything, I am here for the violence.”

Police updated their estimate of the number of protesters, who banged drums as they marched through the city, to 10,000 from an earlier estimate of 3,000. Some marchers wore polar bear costumes, while others were dressed as sunflowers.

`Blood on His Hands’

“It’s our day in the sun to protest against the warmongers,” said Rachel Evans of the Socialist Alliance.

Police vans were used as road blocks in the city to guard leaders, meeting six blocks away at Sydney’s Opera House. A section of downtown where leaders are meeting has been walled by a three- mile, nine-foot-high steel and concrete fence. Some 3,500 police and soldiers are guarding the city.

“When a man of peace comes, the whole city opens up, when a man of war comes the whole city closes down because he is afraid,” said Keysar Trad, a member of the Islamic Friendship Association. “Bush has blood on his hands. They even bring their own cook, because they don’t trust our cooking.”

Jake Lynch, director for the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University, said: “The world is dominated by two super-powers: the Pentagon and public opinion. This is a high- profile occasion and Bush has become a focal point for a number of concerns.”

Injuries, Charges

Two policemen were injured during the protest and taken to St Vincent’s Hospital today. A police spokeswoman said nine people were arrested. No charges have been filed against them yet.

The Australian government has committed A$196.9 million ($167 million) on security for APEC meetings, including A$77.8 million for a leaders meeting scheduled in Sydney from Sept. 2-9.

“The police presence is over the top,” said Peter Blank, a New Zealand protester living in Sydney. “This is to demonize normal citizens.”

A majority of Australians in a survey conducted by the Medical Association for the Prevention of War say Bush is the worst U.S. president in history.

Howard and Bush are leading a bid to convince APEC leaders to agree on “aspirational” goals on cutting energy intensity, and to try to revive World Trade Organization talks that collapsed last year.

Howard, trailing in voter opinion polls, will face an election by January. Bush, whose approval rating is the weakest of any second-term president since Harry Truman, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll, has 16 months left in office.

Australia has 1,575 soldiers in Iraq serving with U.S.-led coalition forces. Howard has refused to set a timetable for withdrawing troops.

Australia’s opposition Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd has promised to negotiate a “staged withdrawal” of Australian troops with the U.S. if he wins office.

To contact the reporters on this story: Arijit Ghosh in Sydney at aghosh@bloomberg.net ; Gemma Daley in Sydney at gdaley@bloomberg.net