SEDGEFIELD, England – President Bush called Turkey a major front in the war on terror Friday and offered U.S. assistance to hunt down the perpetrators of suicide bombing attacks that have killed at least 50 people within a week.
Bush called Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (search) from Air Force One while en route from London to Sedgefield, British Prime Minster Tony Blair's home base.
"I told him our prayers are with the Turkish people and we will work with him to defeat terrorism, and that terrorists have decided to use Turkey as a front," Bush said.
The president called Thursday's twin bombings in Istanbul at a London-based bank and the British consulate a "sad day." At least 27 people were killed in the attack. Last Saturday, 23 people were killed in bombings of two Istanbul synagogues.
"Iraq's a front, Turkey's a front -- anywhere where the terrorists think they can strike," Bush said.
Bush addressed reporters, with Blair at his side, on a soccer field at Sedgefield Community College, children practicing drills behind him.
The president was noncommital about whether his pledge of support for Turkey would include such concrete steps as sending American investigators.
"You'll see as time goes on," Bush said. "Both countries want to help."
Bush took the hour flight north of London for a low-key day to close out a 3 1/2 day visit to Britain.
Bush and his wife, Laura, left Buckingham Palace (search), where they had stayed three nights, on a drizzly London morning. Escorted by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip to an awaiting helicopter, Bush thanked the prince for the hospitality.
Later, as Bush's entourage arrived in the area of Sedgefield (search), a small town of 5,000 in an old coal-mining region, several hundred protesters filled the town green with chants of "Bush out, Bush out," upside-down U.S. flags and posters labeling the president the world's "No. 1 terrorist." A couple hundred more bystanders lined the main street, which was blocked to traffic.
"I think this country's being led by Mr. Bush and I'm not happy about it," said Bill Williams, a retiree from Rippon. "The Americans really do believe that everyone loves them and they're doing good. Unfortunately it's not so."
Others expressed a different view.
"I just think after seeing all the protesters yesterday that somebody should show the other side of the story," said Douglas Harris from Billingham. "I think they're doing a bloody good job in very hard circumstances and uncertain times."
In London on Thursday, tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated against the war and Bush's visit. Police said the massive march and rally mobilized between 100,000 and 110,000 people.
Blair, who has represented Sedgefield in Parliament for 20 years, and his wife, Cherie, walked across a muddy soccer field to welcome the Bushes to Trimdon Colliery, a village a few miles from Sedgefield where they have a home. After handshakes and kisses, the couples went inside Blair's modest red brick Victorian, called Myrobella, for tea.
The foursome then headed for the crowded Dun Cow Inn, a narrow pub on the main street with slate floors and wood beams where Bush was warmly greeted. Lunch was cream of leek and potato soup, followed by fish and chips with mushy peas and lemon creme brulee. for dessert.
Although Bush stopped drinking alcohol about 15 years ago, he reached across the bar to mischievously grab a tap handle -- but chose non-alcoholic lager. He also signed a small American flag.
"I feel welcome. It's a beautiful part of the world," he said, all smiles.
The invitation was Blair's way of repaying Bush for several visits to Camp David (search), the presidential retreat in Maryland, and to Crawford, Texas, where Bush owns a ranch.
While Bush was in London, he gave a foreign policy speech defending the Iraq war; was jeered by tens of thousands of protesters; was the star of a state dinner at Buckingham Palace; met with relatives of British victims of Sept. 11 and of British soldiers killed in Iraq; and faced sharp questioning at a news conference with Blair just after terrorist bombs in Istanbul exploded at a London-based bank and the British consulate.