PORTLAND, Ore. – The violent demonstrations against President Bush caught White House planners by surprise, a presidential spokesman said Friday.
It's not unusual for presidents to be confronted by small protests when visiting outside Washington, D.C. But demonstrations that result in the kind of skirmishes with police that erupted here Thursday night have been rare.
"We did not have any inkling" that such protest would occur, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters.
More than 1,000 people turned out to scream anti-Bush slogans, tag buildings with graffiti and challenge police at barricades around the hotel where the president held a fundraiser for Sen. Gordon Smith.
Among other issues, the protesters said they were upset with Bush's plan to relax environmental standards for logging, a possible war with Iraq, the U.S. stand on the Palestinian question and what they called rampant government corruption.
The group blocked buildings, and Republican donors trying to get to the hotel were taunted and jostled. Many had to be escorted in by police, who later used pepper spray and rubber bullets on the crowd. Six people were arrested.
Fleischer said Bush saw the protests from his limousine when he arrived at the hotel. The protest lasted for seven hours.
There were clues the demonstration could get nasty on the Web sites of groups involved.
Preparations for the protest were posted on the Internet as early as Aug. 7 and continued constantly under such headings as "Tear gas canisters cause severe thermal burns," "Bush to visit beautiful Portland in August, you should too," and "What happens if you're arrested for civil disobedience?"
Oregon, and especially Portland and Eugene, have a long tradition of demonstrations, and many of them turn unruly. Bush's father, former President George Bush, used to refer to Portland as "Little Beirut" because of the protesters he encountered during his visits.
Officials with the National Lawyer's Guild asked Mayor Vera Katz to fire Police Chief Mark Kroeker, claiming Thursday's actions by police were "atrocities against humanity."
Katz' spokeswoman, Sarah Bott, said the mayor and her staff were reviewing film and videotape of the incidents. She said the primary objective was to protect the president and that was accomplished.