AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) — Thousands of protesters turned out in Dutch cities Saturday to demonstrate against the arrival in the Netherlands of the U.S. president, many of them carrying signs reading “George W. Bush: War criminal.”
Bush will attend a ceremony Sunday honoring the 60th anniversary of the Allies’ victory in Europe in World War II. But protests in Amsterdam and Maastricht focused on Bush’s own foreign policy, specifically the war in Iraq.
In Amsterdam, a colorful crowd of around 2,000 protesters gathered on the Museum Square to harangue Bush, including socialists, squatters, and everyday Dutch.
Dutchwoman Anja Wassink came with her teenage daughter Simone, who carried a “Wanted: George W. Bush, terrorist,” sign.
“We came because we want to do something to show we don’t agree” with Bush’s policies, Anja said. She said she had never attended a protest before.
Bush should “drop dead,” Simone said.
One Iraqi man who addressed the crowd alleged he had witnessed atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers in Falujah, Iraq.
“Mr. Bush, you killed our people but we will sue you,” said Salam Ismael, introduced as an Iraqi doctor.
The Netherlands’ government supported the U.S. decision to invade Iraq, but didn’t contribute troops until after major hostilities were over, due to widespread public opposition.
Around 1,400 Dutch troops served in the postwar stabilization, and two were killed. The operation ended in March, despite pleas from Washington to remain longer.
Current polls show about two-thirds of Dutch don’t approve of the job Bush has done as U.S. president. About half say the Dutch should not have participated in the coalition.
One American woman at the Amsterdam demonstration challenged other Americans to “get out there and learn what’s going on,” she said.
“The rest of the world thinks he (Bush) is a bloody waste of space, an angry child,” she said. She said her name was Kristine, from Pittsburgh, but she couldn’t give her last name because it might lead to trouble with immigration authorities.
Bush is scheduled to arrive in the Netherlands Saturday evening from Latvia. Sunday’s ceremony is at the Margraten cemetery near Maastricht, where more than 8,000 U.S. soldiers are buried.
The Dutch celebrated the 60th anniversary of their liberation from the Nazis on May 5, and commemorations for veterans were held throughout the previous week.
In an interview with Dutch television ahead of his arrival, Bush praised the Dutch resistance in World War II and thanked the country for its help in Iraq.
Asked about Dutch policies permitting euthanasia and tolerating possession and sale of small amounts of marijuana, he said “Holland is a free country.”
“It’s a country where the people get to decide the policy,” he told NOS news. “I have a different view. Many Americans have a different view.”