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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 May 2007, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Bush promotes Colombia trade deal
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and US President George W Bush (R)
President George W Bush has urged the US Congress to ratify a free trade deal with Colombia, as part of a wider plan to back democracies in Latin America.

He was speaking after talks at the White House with Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe who is on a three-day trip to lobby Congress support for the deal.

A scandal linking Mr Uribe's political supporters with right-wing paramilitary groups is threatening the agreement.

Mr Uribe said the deal was integral to the fight against drugs trafficking.

'Open-minded'

After being signed by Mr Bush in November, the free trade deal has stalled in Congress.

The Democratic Party, which controls Congress, is concerned about Colombia's links to the militias, as well as the country's human rights record.

It is very important for this nation to stand with democracies that protect human rights and human dignity
President Bush

Speaking at a joint press conference at the White House, Mr Bush said: "The president is here to speak strongly about his record, and it's a good solid record.

"I thank the members of Congress for giving him a hearing. We expect them to be open-minded," he said.

President Uribe will spend the next three days meeting top US officials to try to persuade them to sign the deal and also maintain a strong military aid package from the United States.

He has full support from the US president. Mr Bush asked Congress to consider the implications of the deal with Colombia and two pending pacts with Peru and Panama.

"It is very important for this nation to stand with democracies that protect human rights and human dignity, democracies based upon the rule of law.

"So the free trade agreement with Colombia, Peru and Panama - these agreements are more than just trade votes."

Job losses

President Uribe said his country was committed to building "security with human rights", fighting drugs trafficking and terrorists, and promoting social reforms.

However, the BBC's Vanessa Heaney in Washington says there are other issues overshadowing this visit.

Many in Congress oppose the trade deal out of concern for potential US job losses and Colombia's poor record of protecting union leaders, our correspondent says.

They are also against the military focus of the anti-narcotics programme, Plan Colombia, that has cost US taxpayers billions of dollars since 2000, she says.




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