Protests heat up along Bush's travel trail

/ Source: The Associated Press

About 150 protesters attacked riot police with rocks and metal barriers and ripped down lampposts in Colombia’s capital on Sunday, just moments after President Bush landed for a six-hour visit.

Some 200 helmeted police in full body armor responded with water cannon and tear gas and reclaimed the street, about a mile from the presidential palace, banging their batons against riot shields as they marched forward.

Some of the rioters rampaged on Bogota’s main avenue, breaking shop windows and ripping computers from bank offices. The rioters had broken away from a larger group of 2,000 protesters.

Four police officers were injured and 100 people were arrested, said Bogota police chief Gen. Daniel Castiblanco.

The country was otherwise unusually peaceful.

A small bomb exploded Sunday morning in the lawless Pacific port of Buenaventura, injuring two civilians. The police blamed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which has been fighting the government for 42 years but which President Alvaro Uribe has put on the defensive.

Anti-Bush protesters say that $700 million in mostly military U.S. aid to Colombia fuels the country’s 50-year conflict and encourages human rights abuses by this country’s armed forces. The demonstrators also object to the U.S. war in Iraq.

Along Colombia’s northeastern border with Venezuela, authorities closed a frontier bridge after some 200 people staged a protest on the Venezuelan side.

The main group of protesters in Bogota included students, trade unionists and members of the left-wing political opposition, who gathered about an hour before Bush’s arrival, chanting “Down with Bush!” and burning American flags.

As Bush’s convoy passed about 200 yards away on the way to meet Uribe at the presidential palace, the protesters chanted “Bush go home!” and “Bush is a terrorist!”

Some 7,000 police and troops blocked off large parts of Bogota, while 14,000 reinforcements set up roadblocks, checking IDs and searching vehicles.

Also Sunday, in Tecpan, Guatemala, more than 100 Mayan Indians protested hours before Bush’s expected arrival, holding signs that read: “No more blood for oil.”

The group is angry that Bush will be visiting the sacred Iximche archaeological site. After he leaves, Mayan priests plan a spiritual cleansing to get rid of the “evil spirits” they believe Bush will bring.

Iximche, 30 miles west of the capital of Guatemala City, was founded as the capital of the Kaqchiqueles kingdom before the Spanish conquest in 1524.