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Tens of Thousands of Muslims Protest Bush's Visit to India

More than 100,000 Indians, most of them Muslims, rallied Wednesday in New Delhi to protest a visit by the U.S. President George W. Bush. US President praises Afghan democracy on the first leg of a landmark visit to South Asia.

Tens of Thousands of Muslims Protest Bush's Visit to India

"Whether Hindu or Muslim, the people of India have gathered here to show our anger. We have only one message — killer Bush go home," one of the speakers, Hindu politician Raj Babbar, told the crowd. Protesters gathered at a fairground in central New Delhi, carrying banners that read: "Bully Bush, Go Home", and "Death to America, Death to Bush."

Hundreds of policemen, armed with rifles, were deployed around the fairground. As the demonstration grew, protesters charged a stage where more than 200 Muslim leaders were waiting to speak. Bush will arrive in India later Wednesday for a three-day visit aimed at strengthening the strategic partnership between India and the United States. Several protests have been planned by Muslim leaders and communist politicians.

Many Indians oppose the U.S.'s foreign policy, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. India, a predominantly Hindu nation of more than 1 billion people, has the world's second-largest population of Muslims. On Tuesday, more than 1,000 Muslims rallied in Bombay, some carrying placards reading "Devil Bush Go Back."

In the southern city of Hyderabad, where Bush will visit Friday, several mosques unfurled banners protesting his arrival. Islamic groups have also called for a daylong strike to protest Bush's visit to Hyderabad. Muslims make up about 40 percent of the city's 7 million people. The Communist Party of India also plan to stage a protest on Thursday at India's Parliament in New Delhi, a few miles from where Bush and Singh will meet.

"Up to 50,000 people will take part in the march, and we have the police permission to express our feelings," said Pushpender Grewal, secretary of the Communist Party of India. "We will protest against the U.S. policies, especially the inhuman atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq, a likely invasion of Iran and its continuing support to Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine."

'Moral support'

In a sudden change to a schedule kept secret for security reasons, Mr Bush headed to Afghanistan before, rather than after, his visit to India. President Bush arrived at the main US Bagram air base and was flown by helicopter to a red-carpet greeting from President Karzai at the presidential palace. In a press conference with Mr Karzai, President Bush told the Afghan people their democracy was taking hold: "You are inspiring others and the inspiration will cause others to demand their freedom."

Mr Bush said he was still confident al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and Taleban head Mullah Omar would be brought to justice despite eluding coalition forces for four years. "It's not a matter of if they are brought to justice but when," he said. Mr Bush also said Iran "must not have a nuclear weapon", saying that would be the "most destabilising thing that can happen in this region".

The BBC's Jonathan Beale, who is covering Mr Bush's trip, says the president is only spending about four hours on the ground in Afghanistan, but hopes the short visit will show moral support for President Karzai. The US has about 20,000 troops hunting al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters in Afghanistan.

More than 130 US soldiers have died in combat there since the Taleban regime was ejected. The US military says violence in Afghanistan went up 20% last year. Taleban deputy leader Mullah Abdullah Akhund on Wednesday mocked the secrecy surrounding Mr Bush's visit. He told Reuters: "If the American president's visit had been announced in advance, the Taleban mujahideen would have greeted him with rockets and attacks."

Kashmir dispute

Mr Bush will travel from Afghanistan to India, where he will hope to finalise a landmark deal on sharing civilian nuclear technology. The deal will give India much-needed access to US civilian nuclear technology. But it has been held up by US demands that India should separate its civilian and military nuclear programmes, and open its civilian nuclear facilities to international inspectors.

Thousands of Indian Muslims demonstrated in Delhi on Wednesday against Mr Bush's trip. Speakers accused him of being an enemy of Islam and said he was not welcome in India. Tens of thousands also protested in the eastern city of Calcutta in a rally organised by 30 leftist groups. Mr Bush will also visit Pakistan, and has said that he will try to press Delhi and Islamabad towards solving the long-running Kashmir dispute. Mr Bush said in Kabul he would also raise with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf the issue of militant incursions across the Afghan-Pakistan border.

 

 


 

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