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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 June 2007, 22:20 GMT 23:20 UK
Bush greeted as hero in Albania
Albanian President Alfred Moisiu (left) and US President George W Bush in Tirana
Mr Bush wants to show solidarity with Europe's newest democracies
President George W Bush has become the first US leader to visit Albania, where he enjoyed a hero's welcome.

The Balkan country is a staunch ally in America's "war on terror" and Mr Bush met Albanian soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr Bush reiterated his support for the UN's plan for Kosovo's independence, adding it was time to "get moving" despite opposition from Russia.

He has flown to Bulgaria for the final stop in his week-long European tour.

Mr Bush reiterated his view that Kosovo should move towards independence now.

"The question is whether there's going to be endless dialogue on a subject that we've already made up our mind on," Mr Bush said, after meeting with Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha.

ALBANIA - KEY FACTS
map
Predominantly Muslim nation of 3.2m in western Balkans
Monarchy ruled by King Zog until Italian invasion in 1939
Became secretive Stalinist state under Enver Hoxha after WWII
Democratic reforms follow 1992 elections

In Kosovo, Prime Minister Agim Ceku welcomed Mr Bush's support.

In Belgrade, however, a spokesman for Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's party said his government would "reject any such proclamation".

"President Bush not only confirmed once more his strong support for independence, but in a sense he declared independence," Mr Ceku said.

The G8 failed to reach consensus on Kosovo this week, with strong opposition from Russia to the independence blueprint laid out by UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari in April.

Mr Bush's week-long European tour has already taken him to the G8 summit in Germany, as well as the Czech Republic, Poland and Italy.

Stamps issued

The Albanian capital, Tirana, celebrated Mr Bush's visit, although he spent just seven hours in the city.

Tirana's streets had been cleaned, US flags were draped over buildings and a commemorative set of stamps had been issued for the occasion.

Albanians wear Uncle Sam hats to greet President Bush

Mr Berisha said Mr Bush was the "greatest and most distinguished guest we have ever had in all times".

On a quick trip outside the capital, Mr Bush was given a welcome worthy of a rock star by thronging Albanian fans, who shook his hands and kissed his cheeks as he walked through the crowd waving and blowing kisses.

This welcome was in stark contrast to the protests that have followed Mr Bush elsewhere in Europe, says a BBC correspondent travelling with the president.

Albanian government spokesman Grid Roy said he hoped the visit would help the country's push to become a member of Nato and the European Union.

"Ninety-four percent of Albanians support integration [into Nato and the EU], so that's the primary goal of this government," Mr Roy said. "This visit only makes that easier."

Mr Bush also met the prime ministers of Croatia and Macedonia during his stay in Tirana.

He wanted to show solidarity with Europe's newest democracies, our correspondent says.

These countries offer some hope for Mr Bush's "freedom agenda" even if Iraq, at the moment, does not, our correspondent says.

Albania backs the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. It has tripled its troop numbers in Afghanistan to 140, and has about 120 troops in Iraq.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Albanians praise President Bush's support



SEE ALSO
In pictures: Bush's visit to Albania
10 Jun 07 |  In Pictures
Country profile: Albania
07 Apr 07 |  Country profiles

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