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Published: Saturday, 7/31/2004

Bush brings freedom message to Cleveland

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

CLEVELAND - President Bush told about 2,200 young athletes from around the world last night that "freedom is a such a powerful part of the world in which we live."

Mr. Bush cited as an example the girls soccer team from Afghanistan, which is taking part in the International Children's Games for the first time. "Because your country is free, you are here. Because your country is free, many of you can go to school for the first time," he said.

After speeches in Springfield, Mo., and Grand Rapids, Mich., Mr. Bush flew into Cleveland yesterday on Air Force One and spoke in Cleveland Browns Stadium at the International Children's Games.

The four-day event has attracted athletes ages 12 to 15 from 54 countries. This is the first year that the annual event, founded in 1968, is being held in the United States.

Awista Ayub, founder of the Afghan Youth Sports Exchange, said the eight girls on the team are from Kabul and began to play soccer five months ago.

Yesterday was Mr. Bush's 19th visit to Ohio since taking office in 2001. He carried the state in 2000 over Al Gore by 3.5 percentage points, with Green Party candidate Ralph Nader getting 2.5 percent of the vote.

About 150 teachers, children's advocates, Democrats, and union members protested the President's trip to Cleveland, saying their goal was to show Mr. Bush that his "policies are not popular in Cleveland."

They gathered outside of Browns Stadium near the Great Lakes Science Museum.

Annette Milovich of Berea said she supported the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime, which had harbored al-Qaeda.

"We were attacked and supposedly bin Laden is staying there, and we went to get him. But the invasion of Iraq was a totally different thing. It was about oil, and Bush wanted revenge for his dad," Ms. Milovich said.

She called the President's speech a "photo-op to make it look like he's pro-international, and he's anything but that."

After the speech, Mr. Bush attended a fund-raiser for the Republican National Committee in the Cleveland suburb of Kirtland Hills.

The $2,000-a-ticket event - which was closed to the media - was held at the home of Edwards Crawford, a Republican who is chief executive of Park-Ohio Holdings Corp. It is the parent company of a firm that makes engineered aluminum products in automotive, agricultural, and construction equipment.

The fund-raiser was expected to net $3 million to be split between Sen. George Voinovich's re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee.

During earlier appearances in Michigan and Missouri yesterday, Mr. Bush said his opponent, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, has "few signature achievements" as a senator and cannot be trusted to reorganize the government's intelligence services, one of the most urgent tasks facing the executive branch.

"We heard a lot of clever speeches and some big promises [at the Democratic convention]," Mr. Bush said. "My opponent has good intentions, but intentions do not always translate to results. After 19 years in the United States Senate, my opponent has had thousands of votes, but very few signature achievements."

Today, Mr. Bush is set to take a campaign bus tour with stops in Canton and Cambridge, Ohio, as well as Pittsburgh.

Information from the Washington Post and Associated Press was used in this report.

Contact James Drew at:

jdrew@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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