President Bush and Vaira Vike-Freiberga

President Bush has praised the Baltic countries for their progress in democracy since regaining independence from Soviet rule 14 years ago.

At a news conference in Riga Saturday, with the presidents of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus and Estonia, Arnold Ruutel, Mr. Bush described the Baltic states as symbols of freedom. He also said the end of World War II in Europe meant peace for some, but brought occupation and communist oppression to the Baltic nations.

Russia has criticized Mr. Bush for calling the nearly five decades of Soviet rule in the Baltics an occupation.

The Estonian and Lithuanian presidents have refused to attend a ceremony Monday in Moscow marking the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany.

Mr. Bush is to attend that Moscow ceremony. His trip also takes him to the Netherlands, Sunday and Georgia, late Monday.

In Riga, meanwhile, streets are closed off and empty and stores have closed amid the tight security for Mr. Bush's visit.