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Bush: Georgia 'beacon of liberty'

Georgia's leader Mikhail Saakashvili and Bush inspect an honor guard in Tbilisi on Tuesday.
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George W. Bush
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Mikhail Saakashvili

TBILISI, Georgia (CNN) -- The former Soviet republic of Georgia is proving to the world that determined people can rise up and claim their freedom from oppressive rulers, U.S. President George W. Bush has told a crowd of tens of thousands.

Bush's speech in the capital Tblisi on Tuesday was the last event of his five-day, four-nation tour marking the end of World War II in Europe.

"Your most important contribution is your example," Bush said. "Before there was a Purple Revolution in Iraq or an Orange Revolution in Ukraine or a Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, there was a Rose Revolution in Georgia."

Speaking in Freedom Square, the site of protests in November 2003 that formed the so-called Rose Revolution that put President Mikhail Saakashvili in power, he said: "You gathered here armed with nothing but roses and the power of your convictions and you claimed your liberty.

"Because you acted, Georgia is today both sovereign and free and a beacon of liberty for this region and the world."

The president also noted that maintaining democracy was hard work. "The path is not easy," Bush said, pledging that Georgians "will not travel it alone."

"The American people will stand with you," he said.

"Your courage is inspiring democratic reformers and sending a message that echoes across the world: Freedom will be the future of every nation and every people on Earth," Bush said.

He also praised the country for taking steps to reform its economy -- most Georgians are very poor -- and crack down on corruption.

Georgia is "building a democratic society where the rights of minorities are respected; where a free press flourishes; where a vigorous opposition is welcomed and where unity is achieved through peace," he said.

"In this new Georgia the rule of law will prevail and freedom will be the birthright of every citizen."

'Regional issues'

Earlier Tuesday at a joint press conference with Saakashvili, Bush said Georgia showed what was possible, and its example would "help transform the greater Middle East."

He also promised Saakashvili, "you've got a solid friend in America."

Clearly reveling in the first visit by an American president to his country, Saakashvili praised Bush as a "decisive and visionary leader," saying the Georgian people were "eternally grateful" for U.S. support.

He told reporters that among the issues the pair discussed during talks was the "peaceful resolution of regional issues." He said he also thanked Saakashvili once again for Georgia's contribution to the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Responding to a question, Bush said he was ready to help Saakashvili, if requested, in the peaceful settlement of disputes Georgia has with two separatist regions -- Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Both regions are aligned with Moscow.

Georgia is widely viewed as helping lead the way for other former Soviet republics to turn away from Moscow and focus more of their efforts on building alliances with the West.

Playful mood

On Monday, Bush was greeted by the Western-leaning Saakashvili, and taken on a tour in Tblisi. Music and dance groups performed for the two men Monday night.

As Bush was leaving the performance, he took onlookers by surprise -- including those from his home country -- when he started dancing briefly.

Hands on his hips, he shook side to side for a few seconds, then took a few steps, turned around and did it again.

First lady Laura Bush seemed caught off guard as well, first clapping along then pointing to her husband and gently touching his back.

After waving to the watching crowd, Bush began to step into a car. Only putting his feet in, the president stood on the car's floor, raised his hands above his head and waved them back and forth to the music as he grinned widely.

Despite the playful atmosphere, Bush's arrival in Georgia -- from Moscow -- carried great political significance.

At a ceremony earlier Monday, Bush was given a seat of honor next to Russian President Vladimir Putin to watch Red Square celebrations that marked the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. (Full story)

The U.S. president was among more than 50 dignitaries to attend. Others included Chinese President Hu Jintao, French President Jacques Chirac, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Saakashvili, a 37-year-old who spent years studying in the United States, was not among the more than 50 dignitaries at Monday's ceremony in Moscow.

He told CNN he had decided not to attend unless significant progress was made toward an agreement for Russia to remove military bases in Georgia. He said he was hopeful there would soon be a deal.

On Sunday, Bush and Putin met privately and discussed U.S. concerns that Russia was moving away from democracy.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters the two men were "straightforward. They say what they mean and then they act on that." (Full story)

CNN's Dana Bash, John King and Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.

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