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Eastern Europe Spreads Freedom's Message, Bush Says


President Bush says the people of Eastern Europe who once lived under communist control are now spreading freedom's message around the world. In a speech to the people of Slovakia, he hailed that nation's work in the world's newest democracy, Iraq.

Thousands of Slovaks packed Bratislava's main square on a blustery winter day to hear the president.

Despite the cold, the reception was warm as Mr. Bush recalled a day 17 years ago, when communist authorities in what was then Czechoslovakia broke up a crowd of demonstrators who had gathered on that very spot. They carried candles of freedom - a light that ultimately spread far beyond Bratislava.

"By claiming your own freedom, you inspired a revolution that liberated your nation and helped to transform a continent," he said.

The president noted Slovakia - now a member of NATO - has sent peacekeepers to Kosovo, election monitors to Ukraine, and 100 troops to Iraq.

"You are showing that a small nation, built on a big idea, can spread liberty throughout the world," he said.

Mr. Bush said communist rule in Czechoslovakia came to an end in 1989, with the country gently splitting in two a few years later. He said the Slovaks - and all Eastern Europeans - understand the importance of bringing freedom to Iraq, and identify with the pictures of Iraqis dancing in the streets after casting ballots last month.

"For the Iraqi people, this is their 1989, and they will always remember who stood with them in their quest for freedom," the president said.

The speech set the stage for the president's talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which he is expected to raise concerns of backsliding in Russia's path to democracy.

The visit to Bratislava, the first by a U.S. president, was the final stop on the president's European tour. Security was tight in the Slovak capital during his stay - especially so in the square and around the medieval castle that served as the site for the Bush-Putin summit.

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