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Monday, August 28, 2006

Bush's trip to family home draws anti-war protesters

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — President Bush went to his parent's century-old summer home on the Maine coast for a little relaxation, a distant cousin's wedding and some family time. He got all that, along with a boisterous reminder nearly on his doorstep of the unpopularity of his Iraq policies.

What local police estimated were 700 anti-war demonstrators marched Saturday to within half a mile of the Bush compound before being turned back at a security checkpoint.

The compound, Walker's Point, is owned by the president's father and mother.

The protesters sang, chanted, beat drums, waved signs and played fiddles to call on Bush to bring troops home.

The group was loosely aligned with activist Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier who died in Iraq who gained international attention when she shadowed Bush last summer while he vacationed at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll this month found that only about one-third of Americans support Bush's handling of Iraq.

A spokeswoman for Bush said he wasn't bothered by the demonstration that briefly took over the tiny, scenic downtown of Kennebunkport.

"As the president has said, Americans are free to protest," said White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino.

The president was drawn to his first visit to the family's retreat in two years by the wedding of Walker Stapleton.

He is the son of the former president's cousin, Dorothy Walker Stapleton, and Craig Roberts Stapleton, the U.S. ambassador to France who was a partner with George W. Bush in the Texas Rangers baseball team.

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Walker Stapleton married Jenna Bertocchi on Saturday before about 300 friends and family at St. Ann's Episcopal Church, a stone chapel overlooking the sea.

Over the weekend, others in the Bush family also were attending a memorial service for Grace Walker, the groom's grandmother, and the christening of a baby from the Walkers' side.

The president was skipping those events. He even stayed away from the reception after the nuptials. Aides said the president feared his presence, with his large entourage and rigid security requirements, would be disruptive.

Over his four-day Kennebunkport stay, the president declined the usual golf game with his dad in favor of taking his mountain bike about a half-hour away to a federally owned stretch of woods. He engaged in at least one Bush family tradition, fishing from his father's speedboat.

Bush did not entirely escape presidential duties. On Thursday, he met with the families of five fallen soldiers. He has engaged in telephone diplomacy on the crisis in Lebanon and the nuclear standoff with Iran. He also was keeping updated on the progress of Tropical Storm Ernesto.

Bush was to return to Washington today.