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Europe welcomes Bush

George W. Bush
Bush congratulated as he succeeds Clinton  

LONDON, England -- Political and religious leaders in Europe have issued statements of welcome to George W Bush on the day of his inauguration as U.S. President.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said he expected the special relationship between Britain and the United States to continue.

German President Johannes Rau congratulated Bush and pledged unending support.

And Pope John Paul sent a telegram of congratulations saying he hoped the new administration would provide "clear direction and a sound ethical foundation."

But not everyone was pleased. In Paris, several hundred demonstrators took to the streets of to protest against the death penalty, still legal in some U.S. states, and staunchly supported by Bush.

Some 500 protesters turned out near the Paris Opera, police said, some holding banners with the names of people condemned to death in U.S. prisons. Some 152 people have been executed in Texas since Bush became governor of that state in 1995.

"We are fighting for universal human rights," one demonstrator told LCI television. "We think the death penalty is a violation of these rights. We cannot accept that there are people rotting on death rows, especially in this democracy that likes to tell the world how to behave."

Cook, who is flying to Washington next month for talks with incoming U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell, said continuity was the British government's watchword.

"America is our oldest friend," he told BBC Radio. "It is our closest ally, it is our biggest trading partner and because of that, it is very important that our fundamental relationship continues, that we continue to be allies of trust, we continue to be the people they can rely on in times of difficulty," he said. He said Britain fully agreed with the new Bush administration over the proposed setting-up of a European Rapid Reaction Force.

"We should do nothing that would weaken NATO. We firmly believe that a stronger European contribution to crisis management can actually strengthen NATO. There is no difference between us on that," Cook said.

Britain's Labour government has been very close to the government of outgoing president Bill Clinton, a Democrat. But Prime Minister Tony Blair has said it is his duty to have good ties with Bush, a Republican, and that he intends to do so.

Rau congratulated Bush, while Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder praised Bill Clinton for successful years in office.

"Great hopes hang on your country with its long democratic tradition, it pioneering spirit and its economic dynamism. In Germany you will always find a reliable partner at your side," Rau wrote to Bush.

Schroeder, in a letter addressed "dear Bill," thanked Clinton for excellent cooperation and said the departing president should be proud of what he had achieved in his two terms.

"In the past eight years, the U.S. has experienced an impressive success story. You can look back in particular on the economic development which is without equal in recent history," Schroeder wrote.

The chancellor also lauded Clinton's engagement in international affairs particularly in helping bring stability to the Balkans and his tireless efforts in the Middle East.

"Peace in Europe is today perhaps safer than ever in its history after the resolution of the bloody conflict in the Balkans," he said.

Pope John Paul, who had a difficult relationship with U.S. President Bill Clinton, told George W. Bush on Saturday he hoped the new administration would provide "clear direction and a sound ethical foundation."

The Vatican and the Clinton White House clashed often over ethical issues, particularly abortion.

Although he did not emphasise the issue during the presidential campaign, Bush opposes abortion expect in case of rape or incest or to save the life of a pregnant woman.

He has said he will cut federal funds for family planning services as well as ban overseas aid for organisations that provide abortion services.

In Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said that his appointment as the new U.S. president did not represent a setback for the Northern Ireland peace process.

Adams said Sinn Fein was not worried about Bush, despite the widespread belief that he would be less directly involved in the peace process.

"The return of George Bush is not a setback to this process in terms of Irish-America and the broader political establishment," he said.

Adams also praised outgoing President Bill Clinton for his considerable personal commitment to trying to bring a lasting peace to Northern Ireland.

Adams, speaking after a regular meeting of the ruling council of Sinn Fein, the political ally of the Irish Republican Army, said Clinton's eight years in power had been "eight good years for Ireland."

Political analysts in Ireland have said, however, that they believe Bush has less personal interest in Northern Ireland and that his Republican Party advisers will counsel a hands-off approach to the decades-old sectarian conflict.

In French, Foreign Minister Hubert said he hoped Bush would hold a regular and close dialogue with France and Europe on foreign policy developments.

"We need to cooperate with the United States in a great many areas and so our good intentions are evident," Vedrine told the French parliamentary television channel, shortly after Bush was sworn in.

"We will see how things go in specific issues, but for the general spirit, there must be no doubt. What we wish is that every possible development in U.S. politics is done through dialogue, with Europe in particular," he said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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