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Iraq: Bush Says Anti-U.S. Demonstrations A Symbol Of Freedom

Washington, 20 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush today said he isn't worried by anti-U.S. demonstrations in Iraq, saying such protests are a symbol of freedom. Bush said the collapse of the Iraqi regime "will make the world more peaceful." He added: "I'm not worried. Freedom is beautiful and when people are free they express their opinions. They couldn't express their opinions before we came, now they can. I always said [that establishing] democracy is going to be hard. It's not easy to go from being enslaved to being free. But it's going to happen because the basic instinct of mankind is to be free.... So sure, there are people who express their opinions, and we welcome that."

Asked if Syria has responded to U.S. allegations that Syria is harboring Iraqi officials, Bush said: "There are some positive signs, [that the Syrians are] getting the message that they shouldn't harbor Ba'ath Party officials, high ranking Iraqi officials. A lot of other countries have also sent that message. As you know, Secretary [of State Colin] Powell will be going to visit with the Syrians and it seems they're beginning to get the message."

A British defense official today said it will take a "great deal" of time to uncover the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that were cited as a justification of the war.

Junior Defense Minister Lewis Moonie told BBC Radio the weapons have been hidden, but that they will be found.

In Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims are converging on the holy city of Karbala for a pilgrimage that was restricted for years under the former regime.

One veiled pilgrim spoke to Reuters on the way: "It is a peaceful march from other cities to Karbala just to show that we love our leader Imam Hussein."

The gathering marks the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in the 7th century.

In other developments, Jay Garner, head of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance and charged with supervising the reconstruction of Iraq, is scheduled to visit the country tomorrow to assess the situation in Baghdad.