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Biden Begins Visit to Ukraine, Georgia

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has begun a three-day visit Monday to Ukraine and Georgia that U.S. officials say is aimed at offering U.S. proposals for strengthening ties with the two former Soviet republics.

Biden meets Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko Tuesday for talks on energy, the economy and democratic reforms. He holds separate talks with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a vocal Yushchenko rival, and will meet with key opposition and civic leaders.

Ahead of Biden's arrival in Georgia Wednesday, President Mikheil Saakashvili was reported preparing to unveil several power-sharing initiatives and a blueprint for making elections more democratic and transparent.

Mr. Saakashvili is reported set to offer the proposals in a speech to parliament later Monday.

The Wall Street Journal newspaper said it has reviewed parts of the address and says the president pledges new local elections and larger media availability for opposition leaders. The paper said he will also offer the opposition seats on some governmental decision making bodies.

Ukraine and Georgia are former Soviet republics with strained relations with neighboring Russia. Both countries have pressed for NATO entry and for stronger economic ties with the West.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.