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Demonstrators intrude on president's visit to family compound

Sunday, August 27, 2006

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine -- President Bush came to his parent's century-old summer home on the Maine coast for a little relaxation, a distant cousin's wedding and some family time. He got all that, along with a boisterous reminder nearly on his bucolic doorstep of the unpopularity of his Iraq policies.

What local police estimated were about 700 anti-war demonstrators marched Saturday to within half a mile of the Bush compound before being turned back at a security checkpoint. Called Walker's Point after the family of former President Bush's mother, the stone-and-shingle retreat covering a craggy promontory is owned by the current president's parents.

The protesters sang, chanted, beat drums, waved signs and even played fiddles to call on Bush to bring troops home.

"Bush is fiddling while the world burns, just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned," said Pippa Stanley, 15, of Richmond, Maine, who was helping with the backdrop for pair of fiddlers dressed in togas.

The group was loosely aligned with activist Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier who died in Iraq who gained international attention when she shadowed Bush last summer while he vacationed at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll this month found that only about one-third of Americans support Bush's handling of Iraq.

A spokeswoman for Bush said he wasn't bothered by the demonstration that briefly took over the tiny, scenic downtown of Kennebunkport.

"As the president has said, Americans are free to protest," said White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino.

The president was drawn to his first visit to the family's retreat in two years by the wedding of Walker Stapleton.

He is the son of the former president's cousin, Dorothy Walker Stapleton, and Craig Roberts Stapleton, the U.S. ambassador to France who was a partner with George W. Bush in the Texas Rangers baseball team. Stapleton married Jenna Bertocchi Saturday before about 300 friends and family at St. Ann's Episcopal Church, a stone chapel overlooking the sea.

The president stayed away from the reception after the Stapleton-Bertocchi nuptials, heading for home after posing for pictures with the new couple. Aides said the president feared his presence, with his large entourage and rigid security requirements, would be disruptive.

Over his four-day Kennebunkport stay, the president has declined the usual golf game with his dad in favor of taking his mountain bike about a half-hour away to a federally owned stretch of woods. Accompanied by companions recruited from a bike shop and elsewhere, the president indulged in early morning, hourlong rides two days in a row, out of view of the cameras.

He has engaged in at least Bush one family tradition, fishing from his father's speedboat, Fidelity III. Joining him Thursday and Friday were his daughter Jenna and the former president. On Saturday, though, the elder Bush went for a spin on the water without his son.

Bush did not entirely escape presidential duties.

On Thursday, he met with the families of five fallen soldiers. He has engaged in telephone diplomacy on the crisis in Lebanon and the nuclear standoff with Iran. He also was keeping updated on the progress of Tropical Storm Ernesto.

The president was returning to Washington today before a week of traveling. He is marking the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a visit to the Gulf Coast; raising money for Republicans in Arkansas, Tennessee and Utah; and addressing the American Legion convention in Salt Lake City.


Associated Press Writer David Sharp contributed to this report.


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