Irish protesters greet Bush as European visit begins

? The welcome mat was hard to find for President Bush on Friday night.

Arriving in Shannon at the start of his second visit to Europe this month, he ran into a buzz saw of protest over his decision to invade Iraq and the U.S.-led occupation that followed.

“Flying into a Storm,” shouted the banner headline on the front-page of Ireland’s Evening Herald, casting the turbulent turn of events as the president’s “Iraqi nightmare.”

And it was no better on television.

In a contentious interview by Carole Coleman on RTE’s Prime Time Thursday night, Bush repeatedly admonished her to let him finish answering her questions.

“You ask the questions, and I’ll answer them, if you don’t mind,” he said.

Near the Shannon airport, thousands of protesters rallied around the slogan: “No War. No Bush.” And more demonstrations were planned for to day during the annual U.S.-European Union summit, the president’s first stop on this five-day tour.

“It was just the wrong way,” said Angela Donnellan, a 45-year-old taxi driver in Ennis, explaining her opposition to the war with Iraq. “It doesn’t solve anything.”

With protesters gathering near Shannon and recurring threats of terrorist attacks, thousands of Irish police and other security personnel, backed by military tanks and armored personnel carriers, were engaged in a sweeping operation to protect the president and other world leaders.

In Istanbul, Turkey, where two bombs exploded Thursday, security forces sealed large sections of the city and were searching cars and suspicious packages in advance of the president’s arrival for a NATO summit early next week.

Demonstrators protest outside the entrance to Shannon Airport. U.S. President Bush arrived Friday in Ireland for the annual U.S.-European Union summit.

Bush has never been popular in much of Europe, even at the start of his term. And his decision to all but go it alone and topple Saddam Hussein has fired up his critics. The Iraqi stockpiles of chemical weapons that he warned of have never been found, and graphic postwar reports of U.S. abuse of Iraqi prisoners have raised new questions about the U.S. role in Iraq.

On Irish television, he defended the war and portrayed the abuse of prisoners afterward as the actions of just a “few soldiers.”

If the Irish people “say this is what America represents,” he said, “they don’t understand our country, because we don’t represent that.”

“We’ll defend ourselves,” he said, “but we help people.”

Bush is finishing a month of intensive public and private diplomacy to garner support for the new interim Iraqi government that assumes sovereignty from the United States and its allies on Wednesday.