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General Clark Touts Years with Military to Boost Campaign for Democratic Nomination - 2004-01-24

Enthusiastic crowds are braving sub-freezing temperatures in New Hampshire to meet and cheer on retired General Wesley Clark, who is among the top candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president. VOA Correspondent Meredith Buel caught up with the Clark campaign in the tiny town of Auburn, New Hampshire and found some supporters who say they literally owe their lives to the former NATO commander.

It is early on a frigid New Hampshire morning, but this firehouse in Auburn is jammed with Wesley Clark supporters excited about the retired general's campaign for the White House.

Standing on top of a fire truck next to where the silver-haired, square-jawed candidate is speaking is a group of cheering young people from Kosovo.

From 1997 to May 2000, General Clark served as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and led a multinational force to halt the killing of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and drive Serb forces from the province.

Twenty four-year-old Benny Debruna says while some of his family were killed in Kosovo, others owe their lives to General Clark.

"There are a lot of members of my family that have been lost," he said, "but the rest of them have been saved because of Wesley Clark, the NATO campaign, which led to Serb forces to get out of [Kosovo] and save the rest of the people."

Malesore Hajdini's father was killed during the Kosovo war. Now 25 years old and living in the United States, she says General Clark saved her life.

"I'm just here to support him and to thank him that I am alive here," she said. "Parts of my family and the rest of the family is alive and we are all here, got education and we are planning to stay. You know we owe it to him, morally, for doing so much for us."

During his speech to the enthusiastic crowd, General Clark says his 34 years in the U.S. Army make him uniquely qualified to be president.

"I worked with heads of state, ministers of foreign affairs and chiefs of defense," he said. "I dealt directly with dictators and some of the worst people in the 20th century. I testified against Milosevic in The Hague. My experience has been the experience of leadership, of pulling people together, of making the tough decisions, including decisions about committing the armed forces and decisions of life and death. I have executive experience. That's why I am the better candidate. I'll be the best president of the United States."

Labinot Berlajolli stands cheering on top of a fire truck holding a Clark for president banner.

He says while he supports the retired four-star general for leading the military campaign to stop the killing in Kosovo, he likes the candidate's positions on other issues.

"Well I felt the need to come out here and support Clark for all that he has done, obviously for Kosovo, but also for what he stands for in other areas," he said. "I think he would be a great candidate to run for president and I strongly support him in those areas as well."

General Clark's supporters from Kosovo say they will continue to campaign for him through the New Hampshire primary, then on to other contests that will lead, they hope, to his winning the Democratic nomination for president.

While other candidates here in New Hampshire have ardent followers, it would be difficult to find any who are more passionate then General Clark's cadre from Kosovo.