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Bush Wrapping Up European Tour - 2002-11-23

U.S. President Bush Saturday wraps up a European tour that included stops in Lithuania and Romania, two countries that received invitations to join NATO this week. Mr. Bush spoke to a packed crowd that resembled more of a party than a state event.

The party started with a rock concert and ended with cheers of thank you to the American president. Mr. Bush came to Vilnius to honor the struggles the country had gone through during the Soviet occupation and welcome them into the NATO alliance.

And the Lithuanians were more than appreciative. Thousands of people packed the main square in Vilnius in the freezing cold, waving Lithuanian and American flags and listened to President Bush speak.

The U.S. President blessed the people who were killed during Lithuania's independence movement and welcomed Lithuania with open arms into the NATO alliance. "The long night of fear and uncertainty and loneliness is over. You are joining the strong and growing family of NATO," he said. "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."

But Mr. Bush didn't just talk about the past. He compared the challenges the NATO alliance has faced in the past to challenges it is facing now. "Our alliance and freedom is being tested again like the Nazis and the communists before them. The terrorists seek to end lives and control all life. And like the Nazis and Communists before them, they will be opposed by free nations and the terrorists will be defeated," he said.

The U.S. President later shook hands with Lithuanians crowded into the square to hear his speech. One of them was a student from Vilnius University, Aurimas Zabulas. He explained why he and his friends arrived before dawn on this cold, windy day to get a place at the front of the crowd. "We came here to celebrate our invitation to NATO and to greet president Bush and to say thank you for the support and the help we had from the united states getting ready to join NATO," he said.

Mr. Bush was joined by leaders from the three Baltic countries, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. All three received invitations to join the NATO alliance this week, something that was unheard of during the long years the Baltics were occupied by Soviet forces.