President takes a time out on his road trip to admit war on terror can't be won

The name of George Bush was on everybody's lips in Manhattan yesterday - and not in the politest of contexts. But as the Republican National Convention got under way at Madison Square Garden the President himself was still out of town, completing a week-long campaigning swing through crucial states.

The name of George Bush was on everybody's lips in Manhattan yesterday - and not in the politest of contexts. But as the Republican National Convention got under way at Madison Square Garden the President himself was still out of town, completing a week-long campaigning swing through crucial states.

Mr Bush, who was in New Hampshire and Ohio yesterday, marked the start of his party's gathering with a nationally broadcast interview on NBC's Breakfast Show. Lingering on the topic of the war against terrorism, he said that the effort should never be relaxed.

"You cannot show weakness in this world today because the enemy will exploit that weakness," the President said, in a thinly disguised jab at John Kerry, his Democrat rival, whom he has painted as being less resolute than himself in fighting terror threats and seeing through the American mission in Iraq.

For the first time, however, Mr Bush conceded that the war against terror will be a long one that may never be concluded. When asked by the interviewer, Matt Lauer, "Can we win?" the President replied: "I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the - those who use terror as a tool are - less acceptable in parts of the world."

Scheduled to arrive in New York on Wednesday for his appearance on Thursday evening to formally accept his party's presidential nomination, Mr Bush had a small boost from opinion polls which suggest that while he remains in a dead heat with Mr Kerry nationally, the trends in important swing states may be in his favour.

A Miami Herald poll showed him two points ahead of his rival in Florida, for example, showing 48 per cent support vs 46 per cent for Mr Kerry. Polls taken by CNN put him at 51 per cent in Iowa against 45 per cent for Mr Kerry. Critically, both men were tied at 47 per cent in Pennsylvania, a state that is a must-win for Democrats.

"Bush is moving up in the polls but he is hardly safe," said William Schneider of the American Enterprise Institute and a commentator on CNN. "When he is over 50 per cent, he can breathe easy."

Traditionally, a nominee enjoys a boost in the poll ratings immediately after their party's convention, but that did not happen for Mr Kerry after the Democrat convention in Boston last month.

After the massive march through midtown Manhattan on Sunday, which brought together about 150,000 anti-Bush and anti-war protesters, the streets of the city were mostly calm yesterday. An 18-square-block zone of the city near the Garden was closed to most traffic, but the subways ran normally and most workers were able to get to work more or less unimpeded.

Some demonstrators took to the big hotels at breakfast time to greet delegates as they emerged to make their way to the convention site. "Corporate Orgy in Iraq", was the refrain being sung by demonstrators, some dressed in oversized Bush masks and other wild costumes.

Outside the Plaza Hotel, demonstrators complete with pink wigs lingered with plastic cups charged with champagne, toasting the "tax cuts to the rich" made by Mr Bush in his presidency. But as conventioneers strolled out, most merely smiled at the demonstrators. A few stopped in their tracks, but only to have their pictures snapped next to the pink-wigged protesters.

Another march on Madison Square Garden was planned for yesterday evening by the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign to highlight the economic disparities in America.

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