By Alexandra Hudson - MAINZ, Germany (Reuters) - About 12,000 protesters, many carrying banners reading "Bush go home," "No. 1 Terrorist" and "Warmonger," marched through the German city of Mainz on Wednesday, but were mostly kept away from the visiting U.S. president.
The official rally, which was twice as big as expected, never got within earshot of President Bush, but a small group of protestors rushed toward his car as he left to visit a U.S. base in nearby Wiesbaden. Police wrestled several demonstrators to the ground and led them away in handcuffs, a Reuters witness said.
Bush was visiting Germany for the first time since the 2003 Iraq war, which Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and most Germans opposed.
ed by the war in Iraq Bush started that has cost thousands of civilian lives," said Thomas Odenweller, 49, a computer technician. "Now he's trying to normalize relations with Europe. It must be stopped."
Ignoring snow and freezing temperatures, the demonstrators held banners chastising Bush in English with slogans such as: "You can bomb the world to pieces but not into peace." Many had pre-printed posters reading: "Bush, No. 1 Terrorist."
Before the march, which Mainz police said was one of the largest ever in the city of about 300,000, one speaker told the crowd: "Mr. Bush, please leave our country. You started an illegal war against Iraq."
German police confiscated one poster that read: "We had our Hitler, now you have yours."
Some protesters praised Schroeder for his anti-war stance.
"Schroeder's opposition to the Iraq war made me so proud to be German," said Helmut Bach, 50, a pilot who marched with his 20-year-old daughter. "That's why I voted for him."
Several protesters wearing fake U.S. army uniforms pulled a trailer with dummies of blood-covered Iraq prisoners impaled on iron bars under a banner: "We don't want your type of freedom."
A force of 10,000 police officers staged one of the biggest postwar security operations. Frogmen searched the Rhine for explosives, 1,300 manhole covers were welded shut and thousands of residents were displaced.
For Bush's eight-hour stay there was also a strict ban on air traffic within a 60-km (40-mile) radius of Mainz, barges on the river were halted and motorways in the region closed. Factories, businesses and schools were shut.
Alex Berg, 31, a dancer, and her friends were dressed as cows and carried a poster reading: "We don't need no cowboys."
Bush's visit contrasted with that of his father to Mainz in 1989 when large crowds cheered Bush senior for his calls for the Berlin Wall to be torn down.
Other U.S. presidents have also been given a hero's welcome in Germany, although the younger Bush has never been popular. When he visited Berlin in May 2002, some 20,000 demonstrators took to the streets.
"When John F. Kennedy came to Germany he drove through cheering crowds," said Mark Reichelt, 20, a student. "Now Bush is here and will drive through empty streets."
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