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US VP faces anti-Trump protests, calls to oppose EU breakup

Pence was in Brussels at the end of a European trip aimed at reassuring allies fearful that US President Donald Trump might abandon them.

NATO Secretray General Jens Stoltenberg (R) and US Vice-President Mike Pence (L) give a press conference after a meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on February 20, 2017

Pence was in Brussels at the end of a European trip aimed at reassuring allies fearful that US President Donald Trump might abandon them.

"No question of allowing the European Union's breakup. That message was given," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told Belga news agency after a dinner with Pence on Sunday.

"I feel that it was heard," he said.

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Pence began talks Monday with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at the US embassy as scores of protesters gathered outside, criticising the Trump administration's attitude toward women, gays and climate change.

"We are here to protest against the visit of Pence because we are revolted by the decision of the US administration to undermine women's rights worldwide," Irene Donadio, who works for the International Planned Parenthood Federation, told AFP.

Pence will also meet European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

The Brussels trip follows a visit to the Munich Security Conference, where Pence told European leaders and defence experts: "The United States is and will always be your greatest ally.

"President Trump and our people are truly devoted to our transatlantic union."

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'Absolutely disgusting'

Trump's criticism of NATO as "obsolete", his praise for Britain's decision to leave the European Union, and his apparent tilt to Russian President Vladimir Putin have unnerved US allies.

And they continue to seek reassurance from Washington even though Pence, US Defence Secretary James Mattis and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stuck close to established policy during their foray into Europe.

Pence said Washington would push Russia to honour the Minsk ceasefire accords in Ukraine, while Tillerson said the US would only cooperate with Moscow if it benefits the American people.

But French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he was "struck" that Pence had not mentioned the EU, after Trump welcomed Brexit and appeared to voice hope that other EU states would follow suit.

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Mogherini has said Pence's visit is "a very important political sign," though she suggested EU-US relations may become more pragmatic and less automatic than before.

During her visit to Washington 10 days ago, Mogherini warned Trump's administration not to "interfere" in European politics.

Addressing fears that businessman Ted Malloch might be named the next US ambassador to Brussels, Mogherini said she had been told "there is no decision taken and no specific name considered at this point".

In the German and British press, Malloch reportedly said Brexit was a harbinger of the EU's eventual disintegration and he has compared the bloc to the Soviet Union.

Tusk and Juncker, who will also meet the new vice president for the first time, have expressed concerns about Trump.

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Juncker said after Trump won the election that he feared the new president will implement everything he said he would during a "campaign that I found absolutely disgusting".

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