Hecklers crown bad week for Bush

AT THE end of a week that must mark one of the personal low points of his presidency, George Bush yesterday found himself in a shouting match with protesters as he tried to give a speech on serviceman who went missing during the Vietnam war.

The President was silenced by hecklers for about five minutes during an address to families of soldiers still unaccounted for after the Vietnam war. As he waited for the commotion to subside, he appeared to engage in a furious argument with one of the relatives sharing the platform with him.

Echoing the passionately-held belief of many families of servicemen missing in action (MIAs) that successive administrations have suppressed information of sightings of their relatives, the protesters, many of them middle-aged, well-to-do women chanted 'No more lies' and 'Tell the truth'.

Mr Bush, who at first reacted to the interruptions with a thin smile, finally appealed to the protesters for calm. 'Would you please be quiet and let me finish? Would you please shut up and sit down?' he asked. Although he managed to complete his speech, the televised image of the President being shouted down and accused openly of being a liar by members of the public can only reinforce the growing perception that he is a leader no longer fully in charge.

For him, it must have seemed like the last straw after an awful few days, with his Democrat contender, Bill Clinton, trouncing him in the opinion polls and rumours swirling around Washington of continuing disarray in the White House over his re-election strategy.

Speculation is still boiling over the fate of the Vice-President, Dan Quayle, increasingly the target of dismay even within the Republican Party. Earlier in the week Mr Bush was forced to deny suggestions that he may dump Mr Quayle and find a fresh running mate.

Since then, however, Mr Quayle appears to have worsened his standing by re-igniting the abortion debate after conceding on television that if his daughter, 13, were ever to become pregnant, he would not stand in her way if she opted for an abortion.

The comment prompted a national furore over whether or not Mr Quayle had inadvertently departed from the Republican commitment to eliminate the constitutional right of women to have abortions. Since his remarks, he and his wife, Marilyn, perhaps made the situation worse by issuing differing clarifications on the issue.

Mr Bush's speech, at a hotel in the Washington suburbs, came hours after the Pentagon released thousands of documents on MIAs, which included federal reports suggesting mishandling of the issue by past administrations. A 1986 report spoke of the 'strong possibility' of soldiers still being alive in Vietnam and Laos, and another said that administration efforts showed 'serious shortcomings in every important area'.

(Photograph omitted)