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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 May, 2005, 17:26 GMT 18:26 UK
Georgia spruces up for Bush visit
By Natalia Antelava
BBC News, Tbilisi

Flowers planted to depict Georgian and US flags in central Tbilisi
Saying it with flowers: No effort has been spared in Tbilisi
President George W Bush is already smiling at Georgians from numerous billboards in the capital Tbilisi.

His visit on 9 May will be a landmark for Georgia, which has not hosted many world leaders before.

Alexander the Great is believed to have passed through, Margaret Thatcher was here in the 1980s.

Georgia has made frantic preparations to ensure a top-quality welcome for Mr Bush - the first US president to visit the Caucasus republic.

Poster campaign

For three weeks, hundreds of workers have been out in the streets, painting houses, repairing the potholed streets and crumbling pavements, planting trees and flower beds.

A Georgian woman with her dog passes by posters of George W Bush
Posters publicising the visit are displayed around Tbilisi

On television Georgian pop stars and famous actors have constantly been urging people to come out and greet Mr Bush.

It is costing Georgia a lot of money to host the US president and his 700-strong entourage - but officials here say whatever the amount, it is well worth it.

"This visit is enormously historic. A real recognition of the progress that Georgia is making and it shows that the country is on the right path. So we are going to do our best to host Mr Bush," says Giorgi Arveladze, a ruling party MP and organiser for the Bush visit.

The government insists that the clean-up would have taken place anyway. But the hectic speed of repairs leaves no doubt in anyone's mind that Mr Bush is the main reason for the sweeping changes.

Bush jokes

Yet Georgians do not seem to mind the fuss.

"It's great that he is coming. For a man like that, of such political prestige to come to our small country, that's really outstanding. I and all my friends want to go and hear him speak," said a student, Avtandil Murvanidze.

Russia has played a very destructive role here and it's a very big deal to have a leader of the superpower come and send a message to Moscow that it is no longer the only player in the region
Ghia Nodia, academic

"And we are getting a whole new beautiful city!" he added.

The preparations for the visit have already spawned endless jokes.

Georgians say President Bush should come more often and then very soon the government will have no choice but to rebuild their impoverished country anew.

Officials insist the US president's decision to visit shows that they are rebuilding it already.

In 2003 the young reformist government of Mikhail Saakashvili came to power in Georgia in the "Rose Revolution".

US ally

On 10 May, in the square where Georgians celebrated the revolution that ousted Eduard Shevardnadze, Mr Bush will express his support for the changes and the new government.

Tens of thousands are expected to attend.

Many Georgians regard the US as a real friend, seeing it as a counter-weight to Russia's power in the region.

"When I first heard that George Bush was coming, I thought it was a joke," says Ghia Nodia, a regional analyst at the Caucasus Democracy and Development Institute.

"For this country, it's like a dream come true. Russia has played a very destructive role here and it's a very big deal to have a leader of the superpower come and send a message to Moscow that it is no longer the only player in the region."

Georgia wants to join Nato and assert its independence from Moscow - so this visit has huge importance.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Georgians give their views on President Bush's visit



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