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Bush visit to Europe draws protests

Bush's foreign policy is anathema to many Swiss

(swissinfo.ch)

Amid protests and concerns over the United States' foreign policy, President George W Bush has begun a six-day, four-country tour with a first stop in Germany.

The visit has drawn headlines in Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe, as observers monitor the American president's effort to gain support, despite differences on topics ranging from policy in the Middle East to the environmental issues outlined in the Kyoto Protocol.

A top priority for Bush is broadening the international effort to stem terrorism. The importance of the issue was reinforced over the weekend, when the American vice president, Dick Cheney, warned that another terrorist attack, like those that took place last September 11, is likely in the United States.

European uneasiness

It is feared, however, that Bush's visit will deepen a transatlantic rift rather than close it. The European feeling of uneasiness towards the Bush administration is shared in Switzerland, says Julian Hottinger, a senior researcher at the Institute of Federalism at the University of Fribourg.

The anti-US sentiment could partly be due to cultural differences, but still, many Europeans feel that Bush has taken the wrong approach to a number of foreign policy issues, and that his policies stand in contrast to those of his predecessor, former President Bill Clinton.

"We sometimes don't see the rational in the way decisions are taken in America and to a certain extent we have the feeling that every four years policy changes drastically if the president changes," Hottinger told swissinfo.

His words were echoed by people on the streets of Bern. "I don't the American administration is tolerant of others' opinions, and I feel their foreign policy is arrogant," one woman told swissinfo.

Another person said the US should stop acting unilaterally. "They should work together with Europe and other countries, instead of saying: 'We know how things are and we know the right way to act... and this is the only way to do it."

Protectionism

Even though issues such as possible military action against Iraq, the refusal of the Kyoto protocol and the imposition of tariffs on imported steel are considered to have exacerbated the uneasiness towards the US, Hottinger thinks these decisions were not surprising.

"Bush's protectionist measures are really an answer to an internal demand more than anything else. And even though the Europeans are not happy about it, I don't think the decision came as a surprise to them," he said.

"Europe has its own problems and will watch America with one eye but I don't think that the situation will get worse unless, of course, we are confronted with more violence," he added.

Bush's main aim, says swissinfo correspondent Reto Pieth, is to simply explain his policies rather than seek support. The US administration, he said, has shown some indifference towards Europe's viewpoints.

"Bush will certainly try to clarify US positions to the Europeans and enlist European support to his forthcoming moves against Iraq. However, there is a certain amount of indifference to European dissatisfaction in the Bush administration. I don't think the US will be making any concessions," he said.

Some Swiss interviewed by swissinfo said they were not surprised by the US's high and mighty attitude.

"I think a lot of Europeans have problems with the [US's] cultural and economic domination," said one man.

Police prepared

Prior to Bush's arrival thousands of anti-war demonstrators marched peacefully through Berlin in protest against the US-led war on terrorism on Tuesday night.

German authorities have mobilised 10,000 police officers, a post-war record for a state guest, in order to contain any violence from demonstrators protesting against Bush's policies and his quest to seek support.

Bush plans to meet the German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder and address the German parliament.

He will also visit France, Italy and Russia, where a nuclear arms agreement and discussions about the arms shipments to Iran are on the agenda, as well as continued improvement in the two countries' cooperation.

by Billi Bierling and Ramsey Zarifeh with agencies


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