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U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is escorted by Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay as she visits Halifax on Monday. ((Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press))

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thanked Canadians for helping stranded passengers after the 9/11 attacks, calling it a reminder of the friendship between the two countries as she visited Nova Scotia on Monday.

Rice took part in an afternoonceremony at Halifax International Airport to mark the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11attacks on the United States. Her audience includedsome of the many volunteers from Halifax and other communities in Atlantic Canadawho helpedhost 21,000 passengers after air traffic was shut down over the United States in the wake of the attacks.

"You acted with skill and professionalism, despite the fact that no one could have been prepared for what was asked of you," Rice said.

People in Atlantic Canada took in strangers and provided them with food and a place to sleep for days until the air restrictions were lifted.

Rice calledCanada and the United Statesthe "best of friends,"saying atragedy like 9/11 is a reminder that there's nothing like a friend.

Her Canadian counterpart, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, said terrorism is not a threat that theAmericans arefighting alone.

Security was tightened for Rice's visit, with the city closing several downtown streets to accommodate her motorcade.

Protesters question Rice's motivation

Close to 100 protesters filled the street in front of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic to protest Rice's visit to Halifax.

Many protesters dipped their hands in red paint to symbolize blood on their hands as they chanted "Condi go home."

Thepeace coalition hasquestioned the motivation for Rice's visit, dismissing it as part of a public relations campaign meant to boost support for the military mission in Afghanistan.

"We have quite strong feelings against the invasion of Iraq and the Canadian involvement inAfghanistan, and I think there's not enough discussion why there's a war in Afghanistan," said Anne Webb, who brought her two young sons to the protest.

"We'd just like to have our children havea broad education, to see things from different perspectives and different experiences and this is one of them."

In 2004, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Halifax during a visit by U.S. President George W. Bush.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Tory government have strongly supported keeping Canada's more than 2,000 troops in Afghanistan, where they are in charge of NATO forces in the south. NATO Gen. James L. Jones called a few days ago for NATO members to provide more soldiers.

But the government is facing increasing opposition, including from the NDP, which passed a resolution at a policy convention on the weekend that made withdrawing the troops part of theparty's official platform.

Canadian troops serving as part of the multinational force have suffered a number of recent casualties —including one death when U.S. warplanes mistakenly strafed Canadian troops. Rice was also scheduled to travel to Stellarton, which is in MacKay's riding, for a breakfast event on Tuesday morning.

MacKay said he had been trying to get Rice to visit his home province since meeting her in April.