Bush greeted by Osama banners on India tour

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The Independent Online

President George Bush sought to forge a new special relationship for the US in a televised address to the Indian people. Speaking from Delhi's historic Old Fort at the culmination of a two-day trip, Mr Bush said: "The United States and India, separated by half the globe, are closer than ever before, and the partnership between our free nations has the power to transform the world."

But even as he spoke yesterday, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across India to protest against American foreign policy and growing ties between India and the US. At least two people were killed when protests in the northern city of Lucknow turned violent.

President Bush's address went far beyond the usual polite formalities of a state visit. "India in the 21st century is a natural ally of the US because we are together in the cause of human liberty," he said. "Both our nations were created on the foundation that all people are equal."

Mr Bush invoked India as a natural partner in his avowed aim of spreading democracy. "As a global power, India has a historic duty to support democracy around the world," he said. It is probably the first time India has been so directly addressed as a "global power" by a major world leader. This was a president appealing for a strategic ally in Asia.

But if the proposal has been accepted with delight by the Indian establishment, on the streets the US advances were being angrily rejected. Before his address, Mr Bush flew south for a visit to the IT city of Hyderabad. Even as he visited a business school and an agricultural college, a few miles away police fought with rock-throwing demonstrators protesting at Mr Bush's visit. Much of the city had been shut down in a strike, black flags flew over the old city, and banners strung across the street said: "Bush go home". The protests in Hyderabad were fuelled by the fact that the population of the city is 40 per cent Muslim; many of the protesters carried posters of Osama bin Laden.

Further north, in Lucknow, two people were killed when Muslim protesters tried to force Hindu shopkeepers to join a strike against Mr Bush's visit. The two sides started shooting at each other, police said.

But it is not only India's Muslims who are protesting. Leftist parties that are members of India's coalition government have been leading mass demonstrations as well. Yesterday's address by Mr Bush was originally supposed to take place in parliament, where Bill Clinton spoke in 2000, but had to be moved to the Old Fort after MPs from the left threatened to heckle him.

Analysts say President Bush is reaching out to India as a counterweight to China's growing power, both economic and political. But public opinion in India is sharply divided over an alliance with the US. The Indian business establishment is very much in favour, but other sections of society are deeply sceptical about US foreign policy and fear losing Indian sovereignty.

Mr Bush made it clear it is not only a political partnership he is interested in. "The relationship between India and the US begins with democracy but it does not end there," he said, and stressed his interest in trade with the world's second-fastest-growing economy.

Mr Bush arrived last night in Pakistan, where intense security measures have been put in place for his visit a day after an American diplomat was killed in a suicide bombing at the US consulate in Karachi. Mr Bush will have talks in Islamabad with President Pervez Musharraf, which are expected to focus on the "war on terror" and calls for Pakistan to do more to hunt militants on its territory.

Before leaving India, the US President said: "I believe that a democratic, prosperous Pakistan will be a steadfast partner for America, a peaceful neighbour for India and a force for freedom and moderation in the Arab world."

A White House official later said Mr Bush meant to say "Muslim world".