By Andy Sullivan
Washington – Flag-draped coffins and jeering anti-war protesters competed with pomp and circumstance on Thursday at the inauguration of President Bush along the snow-dusted, barricaded streets of central Washington.
As the president’s motorcade made its way down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House amid the tightest security in inaugural history, thousands of protesters along the parade route and nearby downtown streets booed, chanted slogans and carried placards condemning Bush’s policies at home and abroad.
Some turned their back as the president drove slowly past. Others yelled, “George Bush, you can’t hide. We charge you with genocide.” Among the forest of protest signs, some read “Blood is on your hands” and “Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam.” Others called for electoral reform, gay rights, abortion rights and the use of renewable energy.
“There are a lot of people dying overseas for nothing and I’m here to get my voice heard,” said Bill Coffelt, 40, an engineer from Fairfax, Va.
Protesters also traded insults with the more numerous, cheering Bush supporters, many of whom wore fur coats and paid for the best viewing spots at the first inaugural parade since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In one area, police briefly sought to disperse with pepper spray demonstrators who hurled bottles, trash and snowballs at officers while trying to break through a security fence holding them back from the parade.
At least one snowball hit Vice President Dick Cheney’s limousine, and Bush’s limousine sped up to get past the commotion.
One group of protesters carried hundreds of mock coffins along 16th Street, a downtown thoroughfare leading to the White House, to remind Americans of the mounting casualties in Iraq.
And an American flag was set alight just outside a security checkpoint at 13th and Pennsylvania.
“It’s beyond comprehension the damage this man has done,” said Meredith Lair, 32, who just completed a doctorate in history at Pennsylvania State University. “I think it’s horrifying what we’re doing to Iraq,” said Lair, who was carrying a sign that read, “Mr. Bush, under my mittens I’m giving you the finger.”
Police said there were at least 13 arrests, two for assaulting an officer and the rest for disorderly conduct or other violations. One was a man who embarrassed police four years ago by sneaking past security to get a handshake from Bush. He did not get a chance for another grip this inauguration.
Police also scuffled with about 30 protesters two streets away from the parade route, using pepper spray and batons to disperse the group of self-styled anarchists, who wore bandannas to hide their faces.
“He (Bush) says he’s bringing freedom to the world, and we’re getting pepper-sprayed for our First Amendment rights. That’s kind of ironic,” said 22-year-old Dustin, who works for the National Institutes of Health and did not want to give his full name.
Just outside the White House grounds, 17 protesters staged a “die-in.” After shouting a chant of “Stop the killing, stop the war,” they dropped to the pavement one by one as one of them began reading a list of those killed in Iraq.
One spectator apparently found the act so credible that he began administering CPR. Others were less sympathetic.
“I hope you don’t get up. I hope you freeze your ass off,” said another, who was among a group heading toward the parade-viewing grandstands nearest the White House.
Throughout the city, thousands of police and military troops were on patrol with bomb-sniffing dogs, and spectators had to pass through metal detectors before attending any inaugural events or heading to the parade.
Police sealed off 100 blocks around the White House and parade route, barring all traffic except official security and police cars.
Demonstration organizers had complained they were not being given adequate access to protest, while Bush supporters were granted prime locations along the parade route.
21 January 2005