SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) – Police clashed Thursday with students, environmentalists and left-leaning Brazilians protesting a visit by President Bush and his push for an ethanol energy alliance with Latin America’s largest nation.

Riot police fired tear gas at protesters and beat them with batons in Sao Paulo after more than 6,000 people held a largely peaceful march, sending hundreds of demonstrators fleeing and ducking into businesses to avoid the gas.

Authorities did not immediately report any injuries, but Brazilian media said at least six people were hurt after marching two miles through the financial heart of South America’s largest city just hours before Bush was scheduled to arrive.

Police and anti-Bush protesters also clashed in Colombia, where Bush is scheduled to visit on Sunday as part of his five-nation tour of Latin America.

At Bogota’s National University, 200 masked students clashed with 300 anti-riot police and shouted “Out Bush!” Police fired tear gas, and the students hurled back rocks and small homemade explosives called “potato bombs” – aluminum foil wrapped around gunpowder. There were no immediate reports of injuries or arrests.

In the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, more than 500 people yelled “Get Out, Imperialist!” as they marched to a Citigroup Inc. bank branch and burned an effigy of Bush.

In Sao Paulo, protesters said scuffles broke out when some radical demonstrators provoked officers and threw sticks at them – but said police overreacted. A police officer who declined to give his name in keeping with department policy confirmed that extremists appeared to cause the confrontations.

After the clash, the protest continued peacefully with far fewer people and riot police patrolling among Brazilians waving communist flags and railing against Bush, the war in Iraq and the ethanol proposal. Almost all had departed by sundown, just as the president was to arrive.

Asked about the protests, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Bush “enjoys traveling to thriving democracies where freedom of speech and expression are the law of the land. He has a positive agenda here that we believe the people of Brazil … will benefit from.”

Bush has spoken approvingly of Brazil’s ethanol program, which powers eight out of every 10 new Brazilian cars. The proposed accord is meant to help turn ethanol into an internationally traded commodity and to promote sugarcane-based ethanol production in Central America and the Caribbean.

In Sao Paulo, some carried stalks of sugarcane – used to make ethanol – and a banner reading: “For every liter of ethanol produced, 4 liters of fresh water are consumed, monoculture is destroying the nation’s greatest asset.”

Fearing that Brazil may clear pristine jungle to increase sugarcane cultivation for ethanol, Greenpeace activists hung a huge banner warning against increased reliance on ethanol as an alternative fuel. They placed the banner on a monument to the 17th century Portuguese explorers who conquered Brazil’s Indians in search of gold and gems.

“We know that Bush and the United States are known for exploiting weaker countries into deals that will only benefit themselves without worrying about the environment,” said Mariana Schwarz, a 25-year-old publicist.

“Bush and the United States go to war to control oil reserves, and now Bush and his pals are trying to control the production of ethanol in Brazil. And that has to be stopped,” said Suzanne Pereira dos Santos, an activist with Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement.

Greenpeace said increased Brazilian ethanol production could cause social unrest because most Brazilian sugarcane-ethanol operations are run by wealthy families or corporations that reap most of the benefits while the poor are left to cut the cane with machetes.

“If it’s not controlled, it can create more problems than solutions,” said Rebeca Lerer, 30, Greenpeace’s Brazil coordinator of climate and energy area. “The cane cutters will be affected, we’re going to have more jungle burning, which could harm the environment and even producers of other crops will suffer.”

Graffiti reading “Get Out, Bush! Assassin!” appeared on walls near the locations Bush will drive past as he begins a Latin American tour that also includes stops in Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.

In Mexico City, which Bush is scheduled to visit Tuesday, about two dozen demonstrators gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy chanting slogans against the U.S. project to construct border fences and Bush’s visit.

“Why is he coming here? It makes no sense, it’s unreasonable, after all he’s done,” said protest leader Roman Diaz Vazquez, a lawyer. “We don’t like him. Why is he coming, after he ordered the construction of the border wall?”

Carmelo Ramriez Reyes showed up for the protest in a devil’s mask, carrying a placard reading “My name is George Bush, killer of Mexicans.”


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