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Bush Ends European Trip - 2002-11-23

President Bush is heading home after a European trip that began with a NATO Summit, and ended with celebrations in two former communist countries invited to join the alliance. In Lithuania and Romania, he spoke of those who fought tyranny in the past, and those who must act today in the defense of freedom.

Tens of thousands of people stood in a constant soft rain in Bucharest to see the president, to hear his message of welcome and his words of support. "I am honored to carry a message to the people of Romania: We proudly invite you to join NATO, the great alliance of freedom," said President Bush.

He spoke in Revolution Square site of the 1989 revolt that toppled communist rule, and the place where the late dictator, Nicolae Ceaucescu, fled by helicopter from an angry mob.

The square was packed with an umbrella-toting crowd that cheered as President Bush talked about the struggles of the past. He then moved on to the challenges of the future. "The world has suffered enough from fanatics who seek to impose their will through fear and murder," he said. "The NATO alliance and the civilized world are confronting the new enemies of freedom and we will prevail."

The president referred directly to Iraq; saying Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein threatens the free nations of Europe. Mr. Bush said those who worked so hard to obtain freedom understand the nature of the threat posed by Baghdad. "You value freedom, because you have lived without it," continued George W. Bush. "You know the difference between good and evil, because you have seen evil's face. The people of Romania understand that aggressive dictators cannot be appeased or ignored. They must always be opposed."

The message was similar earlier in the day in Vilnius, where the president spoke of a "moral clarity" that the Baltic nations bring to the NATO alliance. "You have known cruel oppression, and withstood it," he said. "You were held captive by an empire, and you outlived it. And because you have paid its cost, you know the value of human freedom."

Throughout his speech in the Lithuanian capital, there were references to the Soviets and the Germans who alternately ruled the Baltics for decades. The loudest cheers came when he told the people of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia that they will never again be left to stand alone. "Our alliance has made a solemn pledge of protection, and anyone who would choose Lithuania as an enemy has also made an enemy of the United States of America," said President Bush.

There was celebration during his quick visit to Eastern Europe, but there was also ceremony.

In both Vilnius and Bucharest, Mr. Bush was presented national medals, in thanks for his support during the years they strove for NATO membership.

In the Lithuanian capital, there was also a reminder of the strange twists on the path to freedom for these two countries.

After the formal medal presentation was over, Mr. Bush pulled the Lithuanian president aside and presented him with a personal gift. Valdas Adamkus spent five decades in exile in the United States, after fleeing the Soviet army. He lived in Chicago for years before he could finally return home, and the president gave him a basketball signed by former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan.