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Albanian Town Thanks George W. Bush With Statue

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ALBANIA GEORGE W BUSH STATUE

(Reuters - Leon Cika) - A tiny Albanian village that President George W. Bush visited in 2007 has unveiled a shirt-sleeved statue of him, in a square named for him.

The 2.85 m- (9.3 ft-) tall statue of the former president, raising his left hand in greeting, was unveiled on Wednesday in the square festooned with Albanian and American flags for the occasion.

"Albanians' pro-Americanism has its roots in our attempts... to build our deserved future as a free nation, as a free country," Prime Minister Sali Berisha told the crowd.

Bush, who marked his 65th birthday on Wednesday, was the first U.S. president to visit post-communist Albania, which is hoping to join the European Union.

Albanians have a special affection for the United States, which they credit with ending their country's Cold War isolation and leading NATO's 1999 bombing offensive that halted ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians by Serbian troops.

Washington also was a staunch supporter of Albania's drive to join NATO, which accepted it into the military alliance in 2009.

"He left his mother in the United States but he found a mother here," Thomaidha Kaziu, 72, who had seen Bush in 2007 and was told Bush had found a resemblance between her and his mother.

"I will not die without meeting him again," she said.

In Kosovo, which borders Albania, a statue of former president Bill Clinton has been erected to thank him for taking action to stop Belgrade's 1998-99 war against Albanians in Kosovo.

(Writing by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Michael Roddy)

Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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