Thousands Protest Bush at Latin America Summit President Bush faces tens of thousands of protesters and harsh questioning at the two-day Summit of the Americas in Argentina. The U.S. war in Iraq and the president's free-trade efforts have drawn sharp criticism from union leaders, anti-globalization activists and human-rights groups.
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Thousands Protest Bush at Latin America Summit

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Thousands Protest Bush at Latin America Summit

Thousands Protest Bush at Latin America Summit

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And we're going to begin this hour in Argentina, where President Bush is at a meeting of leaders from the Western Hemisphere. Outside the summit, tens of thousands of protesters gathered to denounce the US free-trade agenda and the war in Iraq. There was violence as rioters smashed storefront windows and clashed with riot police, but most of the protests were more peaceful. NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Mar del Plata.

JULIE McCARTHY reporting:

Violence has once again marred a gathering of world leaders. Across this resort town, businesses had shut down for the fourth Summit of the Americas, fearing violence. Their fears were realized late in the day when protesters hurled Molotov cocktails and wreaked destruction along the stretch of a broad boulevard that runs to the sea. The damage was substantial. Federal police and bomb squads were deployed. Firefighters put out a blaze at a bank, and small fires smoldered in the streets. Earlier in the day, a mass demonstration against US policies went off without incident. The most inflammatory thing was the rhetoric provided by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who brought the stadium to its feet introducing soccer idol Diego Maradona.

(Soundbite of protest rally)

President HUGO CHAVEZ (Venezuela): (Foreign language spoken)

McCARTHY: Maradona was one of the celebrity protesters on hand to cheer the Chavez populist gospel of anti-US government and anti-free trade.

(Soundbite of protest rally)

Pres. CHAVEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

McCARTHY: `Each of us has brought a shovel,' he told the boisterous crowd that crossed national borders and socioeconomic divides. `We are grave diggers here in Mar del Plata,' Chavez said, `and we will bury the Free Trade Agreement in its tomb.'

The US is leading an effort to create one of the world's largest free-trade zones, but it's been stalled by arguments over US farm subsidies. The demonstrators say that free-trade deals benefit multinationals at the expense of the local populations and they decry the IMF, which they blame for the economic meltdown that Argentina suffered in 2000. Flags of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Brazil unfurled in the soaking rain. Placards by the hundreds read `Bush out of Argentina.' At one point, they took up a cry that would have disturbed any White House official had they been on hand.

(Soundbite of protest rally)

Crowd of Protesters: (Chanting in unison in foreign language)

McCARTHY: `Fascist Bush, you are the terrorist,' they chanted, interrupting Chavez's story about a conversation with Fidel Castro, who called him on the way into the stadium.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

McCARTHY: Indigenous groups from across the region danced. Trade unions chanted about US imperialism. Alberto Semide(ph) drove 250 miles with his four sons and wife to attend. He carried a sign that read `Gringo out of Iraq.'

Mr. ALBERTO SEMIDE: (Through Translator) We're not just against Bush; we are against all Americans who think and act like Bush does. They have to understand that we're against the use of force, about stealing, about killing and about lying. Those are the ones we are against.

McCARTHY: Chavez pledged to bring the voice of the protesters to the summit of the 34 leaders of the hemisphere. President Bush held bilateral talks with host Argentina, which he praised for its rapidly recovering economy. The possibility of a Chavez-Bush encounter has overshadowed the summit. President Bush indicated today there was no chance of any altercation.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I will of course be polite. That's what the American people expect a president to do, is to be a polite person.

McCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Mar del Plata, Argentina.

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