- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2006

NEW DELHI — President Bush, declaring “I believe in Almighty God,” yesterday praised India’s religious leaders for recognizing the importance of discussing respectfully the differences among their faiths to promote peace.

“We have just had a — a very important discussion about the role of religion, not only in India, but the role that religion can play in helping the world become a more peaceful place,” Mr. Bush said after meeting with nine leaders from five religions.

“One of the things that struck me during the conversation is, in India, is — it’s a country that recognizes the importance of religion and welcomes interfaith dialogue; understands the importance of faith, and understands the importance of people of faith, discussing thoughts and views that are — that are deep in their hearts,” Mr. Bush said.

Although the meeting was closed to the press, the Hindustan Times newspaper in New Delhi reported that Mr. Bush told the nine men that “the world can have peace only if people of religion live together in peace, and India is a good example of that.”

The men he met with include Ammar Rizvi, a Shia Muslim scholar; the Rev. James Massey, a scholar from Punjab who specializes in India’s lower castes; the Rev. Dominic Emmanuel, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India; Sardar Tarlochan Singh, a Sikh former chairman of the National Commission on Minorities; and Doboom Tulku, representing the Dalai Lama.

Each participant got three minutes to speak at the meeting, which ran 20 minutes past schedule. Mr. Bush opened the meeting by declaring himself “a firm believer and a Methodist.”

According to the Times of India, Mr. Singh said Mr. Bush told the Indians he had “come to listen to the views of all religious representatives to further my own belief in India’s plurality and religious freedom.”

The meeting occurred as tens of thousands of communists, leftists, students and angry Muslims poured into the streets of India’s capital yesterday in a noisy demonstration to protest Mr. Bush’s foreign policy, marching to the city’s center hub and chanting “Bush go back.”

“We hate George Bush. He is the real terrorist,” said a young man, who would not give his name but identified himself as Muslim. “He is against us, against Islam. But we will win.”

Some in the throng carried signs that read: “Hands off Iraq and Afghanistan” and “No to U.S. occupation.”

“George Bush, he is an enemy of freedom,” said Piara Singh, standing in a dusty field holding a sign for CPI, the Communist Party of India.

Mr. Bush noted that India, the world’s largest democracy that is mostly Hindu but has more than 140 million Muslims, is able to bridge religious gaps.

“Just look around the table and you’ll see different religions represented. But everybody around the table also was so proud to be in India. In other words, their nationalism was equally important then, as their religion,” Mr. Bush said.

Less than a mile away from the protests, Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush attended a wreath-laying ceremony honoring nationalist leader and peace activist Mohandas K. Gandhi at the site of his cremation in 1948. By Indian custom, the president and Mrs. Bush were both shoeless, a sign of respect.

The two bowed their heads for a moment of silence after the wreath was placed, then tossed flower petals on the memorial.

Security was extremely tight throughout the city, snarling already horrific traffic and forcing some of the thousands of scooter riders to drive offroad, cutting through dirt fields between streets.

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