- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

ROCHESTER, Mich. President Bush yesterday faced down noisy hecklers who interrupted his speech to Polish Americans with chants of "stop your war" before being hustled away clutching signs accusing him of stealing the 2000 election.

A handful of college-age people stood up in the middle of Mr. Bush's address at Oakland University and began chanting in unison. One brandished a sign that said "thief" and another held a bedsheet spray-painted with the sardonic message "Can you say election?"

The president held up his hand in the direction of the hecklers and plowed ahead with his praise of Poland for supporting America's war on terrorism.

"Poland has deployed troops to Afghanistan, has shared intelligence and cracked down on terrorist financing," Mr. Bush said.

Raising his voice, he added: "You need to know that the United States of America will track down the terrorists, one by one, and bring them to justice."

The crowd of 4,000 leapt to its feet and filled the auditorium with cheers and applause that drowned out the hecklers, who were led away by police. The president won more applause when he alluded to the incident during a discussion of terrorists' motives.

"It's because they fear freedom," Mr. Bush said. "See, we believe in freedom of speech."

Among those applauding Mr. Bush was Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who traveled here aboard Air Force One after being feted at a state dinner in the White House Wednesday.

Mr. Kwasniewski repudiated liberals in America and Europe who accused Mr. Bush of conducting a foreign policy that did not engage in sufficient consultation with allies. Mr. Kwasniewski reminded the audience of the American president's visit to Poland last year, when he voiced support for fledgling democracies in Eastern Europe.

"America, accused of unilateralism, once again is showing that it is ready to cover by its security guarantees the states of new democracies far from the U.S. borders," Mr. Kwasniewski said in English. "As president of independent, free and democratic Poland, I wish to pay tribute and thank all the countrymen in America for their contribution in bringing our country back to a place it deserves in the family of free states."

Mr. Bush yesterday also made a fleeting reference to corporate scandals while lauding the American spirit.

"The strength of our nation is not our balance sheet; it's not our military," the president said. "The strength of our nation is the American people.

"The American people are generous people. They're kind people. They're courageous people," he added. "The true strength of America lies in the hearts and souls of Americans from all walks of life."

Mr. Bush was careful to heap extra praise on Americans of Polish descent, who comprise 9 percent of the population of Michigan, a key electoral state that he lost to Al Gore in 2000.

"All throughout our society, Polish Americans have made a tremendous contribution," he said.

The president also recalled Poland's Solidarity movement during the 1980s, which helped defeat communism.

"It was Polish courage and conscience that caused an evil empire to fear freedom and eventually bring down the evil empire," Mr. Bush said.

"And Poland has given the world one of the greatest figures of the last century. The moral authority and iron integrity of a Polish pope have stirred the forces of freedom throughout the world.

"Everyone who believes in human rights and human life and human dignity owes a great debt to Pope John Paul II," he added.

The president returned to Washington and met with congressional leaders. He urged them to pass legislation that would give him trade-promotion authority.

"If Congress has concerns about the strength of the economy, one of the fastest, most effective things Congress can do to give the economy a boost is to pass trade-promotion authority," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters aboard Air Force One.

"Congress has the ability to act," he added. "It's only a question of whether Congress has the desire to act."

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