Published March 01, 2006
NEW DELHI – Tens of thousands of Indians waving black and white flags and chanting "Death to Bush!" rallied Wednesday in New Delhi to protest a visit by President Bush.
Surindra Singh Yadav, a senior police officer in charge of crowd control, said as many as 100,000 people, most of them Muslim, had gathered in a fairground in central New Delhi ordinarily used for political rallies.
"Whether Hindu or Muslim, the people of India have gathered here to show our anger. We have only one message — killer Bush go home," one of the speakers, Hindu politician Raj Babbar, told the crowd.
Bush arrives in India later Wednesday for a three-day visit focused on strengthening the emerging strategic partnership between India and the United States. Dozens of protests have been planned by Islamic leaders and communist politicians.
While Bush remains more popular in India than he is in many other countries, some here object to U.S. policies, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. India, an overwhelmingly Hindu nation of more than 1 billion people, has the world's second-largest population of Muslims.
Wednesday's protesters carried placards that read: "Bully Bush, Go Home," and "Death to America, Death to Bush."
Police, some of them armed with rifles, were heavily deployed around the fairground. As the rally grew, protesters charged a stage where about 200 Muslim leaders were waiting to speak, knocking over television cameras.
On Tuesday, about 1,000 Muslims demonstrated in Bombay, some waving placards reading "Devil Bush Go Back," with caricatures of Bush as a cross between Superman and Satan — dressed in the superhero's red-and-blue costume with devil's horns and clutching a missile.
Some mosques in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, where Bush will visit Friday, have already unfurled banners protesting his arrival and plan to chant verses from the Koran in hopes that it will drive him away.
Muslim groups also have called for a daylong strike to protest Bush's visit to Hyderabad, a key center of India's booming information technology industry. Muslims account for nearly 40 percent of the city's 7 million people.
Members of the leftist Students Federation of India and the Communist Party of India burned effigies of Bush at three intersections in Hyderabad on Tuesday.
The communists, who are key allies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government, also plan to protest Thursday at India's Parliament in New Delhi, a few miles from where Bush and Singh will meet.
"Up to 50,000 people will take part in the march, and we have the police permission to express our feelings," said Pushpender Grewal, secretary of the Communist Party of India.
"We will protest against the U.S. policies, especially the inhuman atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq, a likely invasion of Iran and its continuing support to Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine."
Communists and Muslim groups have criticized New Delhi for backing a U.S. move to report longtime ally Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency over allegations Tehran is developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
They also oppose a deal that the two countries are working out under which India would buy nuclear fuel from the United States in return for opening its civilian nuclear facilities to international inspectors. It was not clear whether the deal would be sealed during Bush's visit.
"We want the government not to sign the nuclear deal as it undermines our sovereignty and integrity," said Mohammed Saeeduddin, a spokesman of the Students' Islamic Organization.