SYDNEY (AFP) — Two policemen were injured and 17 protesters arrested as thousands marched in Sydney against visiting US President George W. Bush Saturday, although police fears of a full-scale riot proved unfounded.
Police officers, many in riot gear, lined the streets in a show of force as 5,000 people marched from Town Hall to the city's Hyde Park in a protest that remained peaceful aside from isolated scuffles.
State police commissioner Andrew Scipione said two of his officers were treated in hospital for head injuries after one was struck with an iron bar and another was hit by a dart.
"I am not happy that police were targeted and assaulted in such a violent manner," Scipione said, adding the demonstrators were arrested for a variety of offences including assaulting police, resisting arrest, offensive behaviour and throwing missiles.
With heavy rain in Sydney, numbers at the protest were well down on the 20,000 anticipated by police. Organisers estimated 10,000 people took part while authorities put the number at 3,000.
The march, which coincided with a summit of Asia Pacific leaders attended by the US president, was organised by a group called the Stop Bush Coalition and featured scores of anti-war banners calling for peace in Iraq.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who is a close Bush ally and has contributed troops to the US-led coalition in Iraq, was also targeted, with placard showing him as Bush's puppet.
As they set off, the protesters chanted: "Howard, Bush, USA, how many kids did you kill today?"
But Bush and 20 other world leaders were well out of earshot some 20 minutes walk away at Sydney's iconic Opera House on the harbour, where they were attending this year's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
The leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao, were protected by a three-metre high fence snaking through the city and 5,000 police and soldiers patrolling by land, sea and in the air.
The security operation, the largest ever mounted in Australia, included overflights by air force jets, police on jet skis in Sydney's famous harbour and special laws aimed at cracking down on protesters near the summit.
Police, fearing a repeat of violent protests at a meeting of economic leaders in Melbourne last year, bought a water cannon specially for the summit but the largely peaceful protest meant it was not fired.
"George Bush is a great evil -- he should get out of this country," said one of the protesters, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib, who was released without charge in 2005.
Deanna Adam, who attended the protest with her two children, India aged seven and Kyle, eight, told AFP: "We are here because we oppose the war in Iraq. It's costing too many lives. I have children and I am worried about their future."
A large banner carried by a group of marchers read: "War criminals not welcome here -- Bush go home".
But the demonstration also attracted activists concerned with a range of issues including climate change, workers' rights and globalisation and most were content to beat drums, blow whistles and chant, with some turning up dressed as polar bears, kangaroos and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.
One group dressed in scarlet dresses demanded "Work Rights for Whores," while a protester carried a placard declaring "I don't believe in anything, I'm just here for the violence."
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