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Shoes and words fly as Canadians protest Bush at Calgary speech
Published: Tuesday March 17, 2009

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As a center of Canada's oil industry, Calgary – in the relatively conservative province of Alberta – would seem to be an ideal place for George W. Bush to give his first post-presidential speech.

But Bush was greeted by more than the 1,500 business people who paid as much as $315 to hear him speak Tuesday. Plenty of shoes were thrown as at least 100 protesters gathered and chanted "war criminal," angry that Bush chose Calgary for his first speech after leaving the White House in January. At least two demonstrators were hauled away by police after brief skirmishes.

The footwear was tossed at an effigy of the 43rd U.S. president outside the conference center where Bush spoke at a luncheon, said Colette Lemieux of the Canadian Peace Alliance.

Some 200 protesters from across the country had gathered for the demonstration against Bush's invasion of Iraq and rendition of terror suspects, she said in a telephone interview with AFP.

They traded insults with guests lined up around the building, and "three people were taken away by police," she said. "It was a heated rally, but not a violent rally," she added.

A Calgary police spokeswoman said one protester had been charged with obstruction and assaulting a policeman. Charges against two others were not announced.

"We had shoes sent in (to us) from across the country," Lemieux said earlier, charging Bush is a "war criminal" who must be prosecuted for his former administration's policies in the US "war on terror."

"It doesn't matter that he is no longer president," she added. "A bank robber who stops holding up banks can and must still be prosecuted for his crimes." The same applies for Bush, she said.

Media was not allowed into the invitation-only event Tuesday, billed as "A Conversation with George W. Bush." It was the first of at least 10 speeches to be announced in Canada, Asia and Europe, a source familiar with his plans told AFP.

But according to sources who attended, Bush acknowledged that his administration spent its final days "bailing water" to keep the U.S. economy afloat, Reuters reported.

But he said that the Obama administration should not let government become a substitute for the free market and it should also avoid protectionism, Bush was said to have remarked.

The Washington Speaker's Bureau, which is organizing his post-presidential speaking tour, listed the Calgary event simply as "Remarks by George W. Bush." In its profile of the former president, it says: "President during a momentous period in American history, George W. Bush offers his thoughts on eight years in the Oval Office, the challenges facing our nation in the 21st century, the power of freedom, the role of faith, and other pressing issues."

Earlier, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said Bush arrived in a private jet overnight and surprised patrons of an Italian restaurant when he dropped in for a bite to eat Monday evening.

"By all accounts the president was friendly, relaxed, cordial, (and) expressed many times he was happy to be in Calgary," the public broadcaster said.

Over the weekend, a crowd gathered in the city to protest his upcoming speech.

"He is a war criminal who fought an illegal war, and there are some who say he was never elected democratically, so there are some who say he should be arrested as soon as he comes here," said a woman dressed as a Guantanamo Bay prisoner, who called herself Ivana Nomobush, Reuters reported.

The woman brought a makeshift "shoe cannon" that catapulted footwear, but complained that security personnel blocked her from using it.

The protesters' shoe theme is an homage to Iraqi reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi, who was sentenced last week to three years in prison for hurling his shoes at Bush in December, stirring outrage from his family and supporters.

With wire reports.

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