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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

 

Bush: Georgia 'inspiration for freedom'

From The New York Times:

"We are living in historic times when freedom is advancing, from the Black Sea to the Caspian, and to the Persian Gulf and beyond," Mr. Bush said. "As you watch free people gathering in squares like this across the world, waving their nations' flags and demanding their God-given rights, you can take pride in this fact: they have been inspired by your example and they take hope in your success."

The Georgians did not disappoint. On a hot spring day, the boisterous, largely youthful crowd - said to be one of the largest ever to gather in Georgia - seemed unaware or did not care that the Bush administration steadfastly backed Mr. Shevardnadze in 2003, refusing to meet with the pro-democracy forces until after the former Soviet foreign minister had fled. Mr. Saakashvili, a 37-year-old lawyer who studied at Columbia and was the main benefactor of Mr. Bush's visit, estimated that as many as 150,000 people had come to see Mr. Bush, the first American president to visit his country.

Mr. Bush's warning to Mr. Putin, his host only 24 hours before at the 60th anniversary celebration of the defeat of Germany, was focused on two separatist enclaves within Georgia's borders, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, that are aligned with Moscow. Earlier in the day, at a joint news conference with Mr. Saakashvili in the Parliament building, Mr. Bush embraced the Georgian president's plan for the enclaves to become autonomous and self-governing, but not independent. He noted with approval that Mr. Saakashvili wanted the country "to remain intact."

In his remarks, Mr. Bush warned Georgians that for all their recent success, elections were only the beginning. "While peaceful revolutions can bring down repressive regimes, the real changes and the real challenge is to build up free institutions in their place," Mr. Bush said. "This is difficult work, and you are undertaking it with dignity and determination."

Mr. Saakashvili has been praised for attacking the country's long-term corruption, modernizing the military, increasing tax collection and instituting standardized testing in schools, but his country has also been criticized by Human Rights Watch for the use of torture and a plea-bargaining system that allows defendants in criminal cases to pay the government to avoid a trial.

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