U.S. President George W. Bush walks past
the honour guard with Croatian President Stjepan Mesic during their
meeting in Zagreb April 4, 2008.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)
BELGRADE, April 4 (Xinhua) -- Visiting U.S. President
George W. Bush and his Croatian counterpart, Stjepan Mesic, discussed relations
between the two countries Friday as Croatian demonstrators rallied in downtown
Zagreb to protest U.S. foreign policy.
After the talks with Bush in the presidential place,
Mesic said at a dinner that relations between Croatia and the United States "are
on the upswing," the Croatian official news agency HINA reported.
"We need and seek allies and friends throughout the
world -- allies and friends who will wish to cooperate with us while respecting
our identity and our special qualities, taking due account of their and our
national interests," he said.
"I believe that Croatia can have precisely such an
ally and friend in the United States," Mesic said.
Bush arrived in Zagreb on Friday afternoon for a
two-day visit from Bucharest, where Croatia received an invitation to join NATO
a day earlier.
Mesic thanked the United States for its support for
Croatia "in the achievement of the two priority goals of Croatia's foreign
policy: accession to the European Union and to NATO."
"In receiving the invitation for NATO at the recent
Bucharest summit we have accomplished a decisive step towards NATO membership. I
am also convinced that our negotiations on accession to the European Union will
continue successfully after a brief standstill," Mesic said.
Bush said he was celebrating the fact that Croatia
was invited to join NATO and was "so proud" of the U.S.-Croatian relationship,
describing Croatia's NATO invitation as an invitation to Croatia to become "one
of America's closest allies."
Bush also praised Croatians for the bravery and
willingness to help the fledgling democracy in Afghanistan.
Bush is the first U.S. president to make an official
visit to Croatia since its independence in 1992. President Richard Nixon visited
Croatia in 1970 when it was still a part of Yugoslavia. President Bill Clinton
visited Croatia in 1996, but he only stopped at Zagreb airport for a few hours.
In downtown Zagreb, peaceful rallies were held to
protest U.S. foreign policy. About 250 activists of the Anti-Imperialist
Actiongroup gathered in Francuske Republike square, holding up banners and flags
protesting against NATO and U.S. policy.
"We are here to show that Croatia is not with Bush
and the aggressive U.S. policy," activist Mario Simunkovic said, adding that the
protest was not against the United States and its people, but against its
Late Friday, the activists joined a rally in Cvjetni
Trg square, organized by several non-governmental organizations. The
activistslit candles to represent all the victims of Bush's policy, killed in
the World Trade Center in New York and in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bush is expected to meet Prime Minister Ivo Sanader
Saturday and address the public in St. Mark's Square in central Zagreb.