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Bush bound for Europe to promote free trade

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WASHINGTON — President Bush set off Wednesday on a weeklong trip across Europe to promote international free trade as a tool for igniting the lagging economies of developing nations.

He is also denouncing in advance anti-trade demonstrators he expects to encounter, saying they are no friends of the impoverished developing nations they champion.

Before leaving the White House, Bush greeted about 170 students from the Seeds of Peace Program, which fosters friendships among teenagers from conflict-stricken parts of the world. While he posed for pictures and shook hands, first lady Laura Bush waited in a light drizzle for a few minutes, then walked out alone to board Marine One. The president followed shortly thereafter.

The Bush trip is centered on the meeting in Genova, Italy, of the Group of Eight, the leaders of the seven largest industrial democracies — Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, Italy and the United States — and Russia.

As in his first presidential trip to Europe five weeks ago, Bush will make clear that the United States intends to develop, test and deploy an anti-missile shield, despite agreements reached during the Cold War with the former Soviet Union.

"The Europeans heard me once, and they'll hear me again, say that the Cold War is over, that Russia is not our enemy and that we should not adhere to a treaty that prevents the United States and other freedom-loving people from developing defenses," Bush said in a pre-departure interview with the BBC.

Boarding Air Force One, Bush flies first to London, where on Thursday he plans to have lunch at Buckingham palace with Queen Elizabeth and meet with Prime Minister Tony Blair at Chequers, the prime minister's country home.

"I find Tony Blair to be somebody ... who like me will put a hundred percent effort into making sure the relationship between America and Great Britain is unique and strong," Bush told the BBC.

In London, Blair spokesman Godrick Smith said the two leaders would discuss Bush's plan for a missile defense system and his rejection of the Kyoto protocol on climate change, which Britain supports along with the European Union.

"I don't think there's any point in pretending that we have agreement on the issue," Smith said. "The prime minister will underline once again to President Bush that for the U.K. and the E.U., this is a significant issue of substance."

Bush and Blair also planned to talk about U.S.-British cooperation on Kosovo, Bosnia, Macedonia, the Middle East, Iraq and Russia, Smith said.

During the rest of the week, Bush holds separate meetings with a succession of government leaders. Other highlights include a meeting with Pope John Paul II and a flight to Kosovo where he'll share lunch with U.S. peacekeeping troops.

In a speech on Tuesday at World Bank headquarters in Washington, Bush said he will press for a new round of global trade talks to promote free trade and "ignite a new era of global economic growth."

The president also proposed a major shift in international financial practices.

He suggested the World Bank and other international lending institutions convert up to half of their resources to grants instead of loans, which have often mired recipient countries in unpayable debt.

The grants should pay for school, health, nutrition, water and sanitation programs, the president said.