Thousands in Spain Protest Bush Visit

From Times Wire Services

Thousands of Spaniards marched through central Madrid on Sunday to protest a visit by President Bush, who kicks off his first European tour with a daylong visit to the capital Tuesday.

Security was tight as protesters, carrying banners reading "Bush Go Home" and some wearing stickers equating the president with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia, blocked the streets.

Police estimated that more than 3,000 people turned out for the demonstration. During his six-day trip, Bush is expected to face European leaders' questions on issues such as missile defense, global warming, trade and North Atlantic Treaty Organization enlargement.

As a police helicopter hovered overhead, demonstrators shouted "Bush assassin!" and a spokesman read a speech blasting Bush on globalization, embargoes against Iraq and Cuba, plans for a missile defense shield, the death penalty and a decision to reject the Kyoto global warming treaty.

"The visit of Bush represents the evil image of the Empire," union leader Adolfo Jimenez said.

Gaspar Llamazares, leader of Spain's United Left Coalition, said it was time for Bush to acknowledge the concerns abroad about the direction of his presidency.

"This is a good moment for us to let Bush know there is another culture outside of his country and that his brand of politics is harmful to the world," he said.

Organized by several dozen leftist and environmental groups, the demonstrators were peaceful despite their angry rhetoric.

On Tuesday night, they will hold a second protest in front of the U.S. Embassy, although smaller demonstrations appear set for today to oppose the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh.

The death penalty is a key theme of anti-American sentiment in Spain, following Sunday's return of a Spanish citizen who spent more than three years on death row in the U.S.

"Thank you, Spain!" Joaquin Jose Martinez exclaimed as he arrived at Madrid's Barajas airport. "There are no words that can describe what I feel. All I can say is I'm very proud to be Spanish."

Last week, a Florida jury in a retrial acquitted Martinez in a double slaying after pleas from Spanish King Juan Carlos I and the Madrid government. Thousands of Spaniards contributed to the defendant's legal fees.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique said he understood the desire to protest against executions during Bush's visit because "unfortunately in American society a majority is still in favor of the death penalty."

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