Bush supports Kosovo, receives warm welcome

By The Associated Press

TIRANA, Albania – President Bush is unpopular at home, but he’s a hero in this desperately poor, former communist country.

He was welcomed like a rock star Sunday in one of the most enthusiastic receptions he’s seen in years.

Throngs of people grasped Bush’s arms on the streets of Fushe Kruje, a small town near the airport where he stopped to chat in a cafe with business owners.

Unused to such adoring crowds in America, Bush reveled in the attention. He kissed women on the cheek, posed for pictures and signed autographs. Someone reached out and rubbed his gray hair.

The excitement provided the kind of television pictures that White House officials have longed for.

“Bushie, Bushie,” people shouted. The crowd, several deep on the sidewalk, stretched for several blocks. Some of the business people have received small loans under U.S. government programs.

Cut off from the rest of the world for four decades under the harsh rule of dictator Enver Hoxha, Albania is trying to squeeze onto the world stage. Hoxha died in 1985, and Albania emerged from isolation in 1990.

It remains one of Europe’s poorest countries. Albania is seeking membership in NATO and the European Union and wants to be good friends with Washington.

Prime Minister Sali Berisha said Bush was “the greatest and most distinguished guest we have ever had in all times.” Another gushy reception awaits the president Monday in Bulgaria on the final day of an eight-day, six-country trip.

Bush told Albania what it wanted to hear: independence for neighboring Kosovo is certain. “That’s what’s important to know,” the president said. It’s an important issue here because 90 percent of the population of Kosovo is ethnic Albanian.

Bush served notice he is running out of patience with Russia’s objections to Kosovo’s statehood.

“Sooner rather than later you’ve got to say `Enough’s enough – Kosovo is independent,'” Bush said.

While the United States supports Albania’s bid for membership in NATO, Bush said this country still has to make more political and military reforms and crack down on corruption and organized crime.

“We are determined to take any decision, pass any law and undertake any reform to make Albania appropriate to receive the invitation” to join the western military alliance, Berisha said at a news conference with Bush.