Bush pledges support for Georgia

US President George Bush, greeted with a huge outpouring of affection in former Soviet republic Georgia, has expressed strong support for the fledging democracy.

    Tens of thousands of people gathered to see Bush in Tbilisi

    "You've got a solid

    friend in America," Bush said in the capital T

    bilisi on Tuesday.

    He encouraged Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to

    use peaceful means to settle disputes with two separatist

    regions - Abkhazia and South Ossetia - which are aligned

    with Moscow, but

    offered to help resolve the disputes if

    assistance was requested.

    Bush and Saakashvili met in the Parliament House about two

    blocks from Freedom Square where tens of thousands of

    people gathered to see or hear the US leader.

    "You've got a solid

    friend in America"

    US President George Bush to Georgia's president

    "No event in the history of this country has ever

    assembled anything close to these numbers," Saakashvili


    "It shows the importance of this visit."

    Bases loaded

    Bush said he talked in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir

    Putin about Georgia's demand for the closure of two Russian

    bases in this country.

    "He (Putin) reminded me that there is an agreement in

    place - a 1999 agreement," Bush said. "He said that the

    Russians want to work with the [Georgian] government to fulfil their

    obligations in terms of that agreement.

    "I think that's a

    commitment that's important for the people of Georgia to

    hear. It shows there's grounds to work to get this issue


    The long-simmering dispute over the bases has strained

    relations between the former Soviet republic, relations that have

    soured further since Saakashvili and his pro-Western

    administration came to power in 2004. 


    offered Saakashvili (R) help
    to resolve separatist disputes

    Georgia wants Russia to withdraw two Soviet-era holdover

    bases it retains in Georgia.

    Russian Defence Minister

    Sergei Ivanov said it could take up to four years to build

    the barracks, garages and other infrastructure in Russia to

    handle the servicemen and materiel withdrawn from Georgia.

    Saakashvili did not attend Monday's Victory Day

    celebrations in Moscow to protest over Russia's reluctance to

    withdraw from the two bases.

    Democracy push

    Bush also said that Russia would benefit from the emergence of new democracies in neighbouring countries of the former Soviet Union.

    "When you have peaceful countries on your border, you benefit," Bush said.

    "I'm sure that Russia will recognise the benefits of having democracies on her borders."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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