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Goodwill toward U.S. tempers anti-Bush sentiment in Denmark

COPENHAGEN, Denmark—It's easy enough to find Danes who dislike President Bush, but analysts here said those views were balanced by a deep reservoir of support for the United States that was rarely seen these days in Europe.

"We actually trust the U.S. to do the right thing, and therefore if the U.S. president says it's necessary to invade this country, we believe it," said Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen, a political scientist at the University of Copenhagen.

President Bush's visit to Denmark—during which he'll meet Wednesday with Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, have a news conference with him, then lunch with Queen Margrethe II—is payback of sorts for that country's loyal contribution to Bush's "coalition of the willing" in Iraq, where 500 Danish troops remain on duty in the south despite widespread misgivings about the war.

Anne Marie Larsen, 32, a schoolteacher, spoke for many Danes when she said she didn't like President Bush; recent polls have shown that 56 percent of Danes think he's been a bad president. But Larsen said she harbored no ill will toward the United States. "A lot of good things come from America," she said.

Occupied by the Nazis during World War II, threatened by the Soviet Union during the Cold War and thriving today in a free-trading global economy, the Danes are keener than many continental Europeans on a close friendship with the United States.

History has taught Danes that America will look out for them better than the great powers of Europe, said Niels Helveg Petersen, a former foreign minister and center-left member of Parliament.

The resulting feelings can be powerful. A few months after the Iraq war began in 2003, a Danish pizzeria owner made news when he refused to serve French or German customers on the grounds that they were biased against the United States.

Some Danes even commemorate American Independence Day: On Monday, about 5,000 people gathered in the northern town of Rebild for a Fourth of July celebration that's been held annually for nearly a century.

"Historically, Denmark feels very attached to American values," said Jacob Nielsen, the political editor at the Copenhagen daily newspaper Politiken. Nielsen noted that Denmark has close ties with its former colony of Greenland, which is home to an important U.S. air base.

Nielsen said Prime Minister Rasmussen was likely to win political points from the Bush visit, even though the president himself was unpopular among Danes. A poll last week for Nielsen's newspaper by Vilstrup Research showed that only 12 percent considered Bush a good president, while 72 percent gave former President Clinton favorable reviews.

"Denmark is a small country, and just the idea of the American president dropping by here as the only stop before he goes to the G-8 summit may confirm the government's line that their foreign policy is giving Denmark a say in international politics," Nielson said.

Many Danes dislike Bush for the same reasons most Europeans do, the polls show: Many consider him a far-right reactionary who opposes things they hold dear, such as the Kyoto global-warming accords and the international criminal court.

But in Denmark, it's one thing to criticize Bush and quite another to bash America, said Palle Svensson, a political scientist at the University of Aarhus. To be tarred as "anti-American" can be a serious political liability here, he said.

Denmark supported the Iraq invasion with a submarine, and the center-right government has kept its small contingent of troops with the British near Basra long after countries such as Spain and the Netherlands have withdrawn their forces.

In February, Prime Minister Rasmussen defeated a center-left candidate who'd promised to withdraw Danish troops from Iraq.

"I think most Danes feel that if we have supported the invasion of Iraq then we are honor-bound to stay on to make this work," said political scientist Rasmussen, who isn't related to the prime minister.


(Dilanian reports for The Philadelphia Inquirer)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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