SEOUL, South Korea – President Bush on Wednesday brushed off the raucous demonstrators who protested him as he opened a three-nation visit to Asia, saying it’s a sign of citizens living in a country where they are free to speak their minds.
The dueling demonstrations by prayerful, flag-waving supporters and rowdy protesters doused by police water cannons reflected sharp political divisions in the U.S.-South Korean relationship, which has endured volatile moments this year, but is still reliable and vital for both sides.
“I enjoy coming to a free society where people are able to express their opinions — and your country is a free society,” Bush told South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
Lee sought to downplay the protests.
“The majority of the Korean people have been eagerly waiting for your visit,” said Lee, who noted that thousands of people had gathered on Tuesday in Seoul to pray for Bush and the future of the U.S.-South Korea relationship.
“And of course behind these people there were those who were sort of opposed,” Lee said in a wry reference to the thousands of anti-Bush protesters.