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FOREIGN MEDIA

Bush's references to religion and freedom draw notice

AMSTERDAM -- As foreign governments pondered their reactions to President Bush's inaugural speech yesterday, newspapers around the world reported it with particular emphasis on the religious tone and Bush's repeated references to ''freedom" in the United States and around the world.

Bush painted a vision of ''an America that propagates freedom, democracy, and prosperity around the world," an article on the website of the French newspaper Liberation said. ''The problem is that with this speech, one has the impression of having heard it a thousand times, and no longer believing it."

France, among the staunchest opponents to the Iraq war, remains critical of the continuing US military presence there despite recent efforts by President Jacques Chirac to mend ties.

Chirac reportedly plans a trip to Washington sometime before Bush makes his next trip to Europe on Feb. 22 -- a trip that will take him to Belgium and Germany, but not France.

The French daily newspaper Le Monde, in its online edition, noted that Bush ''made several references to God." European leaders normally do not mention religion in their public statements.

In Madrid, capital of another country opposed to the war, the daily newspaper El Pais used the word ''freedom" in English as the first word of its online report and called it ''the word most often used by George W. Bush in his inaugural speech."

The newspaper said Bush ''wanted to deliver a conciliatory message to his allies after four years in which the United States' aggressive foreign policy has enjoyed scant support in Europe."

In Britain, the London Times newspaper said: ''Although evangelical in tone and florid in its rhetoric, Bush's 20-minute speech appeared to confirm signs that America will adapt a less unilateral foreign policy over the next four years."

In Mexico, some reaction was skeptical. ''What I'm hearing and what I'm feeling is 'more of the same,' which in the case of Mexico means 'more of nothing,' " said Gabriel Guerra, a political analyst in Mexico City. ''We are not on the list of priorities. We are not even on the radar screen."

Guerra said that despite Bush's public pledges to press the US Congress for immigration overhauls, Mexico's top foreign policy priority, he expected no substantial action from Bush. ''I don't think immigration reform ranks anywhere near his top priorities -- the Middle East, Social Security reform, or tax reform," Guerra said.

Agustin Gutierrez Canet, spokesman for Mexico's president, Vicente Fox, was more upbeat about the prospects of immigration overhauls passing during Bush's second term.

''We have been observing carefully the interest of President Bush in promoting this agenda," Gutierrez Canet said. ''We are optimistic that this agenda will be carried out in the months ahead."

In China, the official New China News Agency reported the speech without comment.

Several hours before the speech, an audio recording was posted on a radical Islamic website purporting to be the words of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who is orchestrating attacks against US troops and Iraqi security forces in Iraq.

He said that insurgents were winning their struggle against the ''tyrant America."


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