updated 6/4/2004 11:19:17 AM ET 2004-06-04T15:19:17

Thousands of police patrolled the streets of Rome on Friday as small groups of protesters marched against President Bush’s visit.

A major anti-war demonstration was expected to draw thousands of people later in the day.

Bush came to Rome to mark the 60th anniversary of the Allied liberation of Rome and to meet with Italian leaders and the pope.

Bands of a few hundred protesters formed in the capital, with a few throwing firecrackers at an Italian air force building, blocking a few roads and setting a trash can on fire, the ANSA news agency said. Thousands of protesters converged on the capital from around Italy to take part in the larger protest.

One protester questioned calling Americans “liberators” for their role in World War II.

“Their credit as liberators was lost in Vietnam,” said Mario Bucci, a 40-year-old waving a rainbow peace flag.

10,000 police deployed
Italy has deployed about 10,000 police to protect Bush and his entourage, which includes First Lady Laura Bush. Premier Silvio Berlusconi has said that he is worried about the possibility of violence, and the U.S. Embassy has warned Americans to avoid the crowds.

Many of the protesters waved the rainbow flags that have become an emblem of the anti-war movement here. “No to War,” one banner said. “Not in my name, Mr. Bush,” another sign read.

One group of about 500 protesters marched toward the University of Rome, chanting “George Bush, terrorist!”

Valerio Beccari, a 22-year-old student, wore a black T-shirt with the slogan “Stop Global War” on the back. “We don’t plan any violence,” he said. “Peace! Peace! Peace!”

On Friday morning, the area around Villa Taverna, the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in a posh neighborhood where Bush is staying, was cordoned off to traffic. Hundreds of police were on alert near the Vatican, where the president was met Pope John Paul II.

Bus service was affected too, with more than 70 bus lines throughout the city suspended or rerouted. The city center was far more quiet than normal, with many people apparently staying home Friday.

Many central roads were to be closed to traffic as Bush moved through the city. Manholes were sealed and trash bins and cars along the routes were removed. Helicopters hovered overhead, and the airspace over Rome was closed to private aircraft.

Bush arrived in Rome before dawn Friday and was scheduled to leave Saturday for Paris.

In the past, some large demonstrations in Italy have turned violent, notably the 2001 Group of Eight summit attended by Bush in Genoa.

There, amid tens of thousands of peaceful marchers, a few hundred protesters rioted and attacked police. Authorities fought back with tear gas, clubs and water cannons. In one clash, police shot dead a 23-year-old protester.

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