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The World

Bush the Hipster Stays Up Past His Bedtime in Georgia

May 10, 2005|Peter Wallsten | Times Staff Writer

TBILISI, Georgia — He was roasted just days ago by his own wife as a dullard who goes to bed too early. But upon his arrival in this former Soviet republic Monday night, President Bush was suddenly overcome with the pulsating rhythms of local bands, throwing his hands in the air and gyrating his hips.

The image was carried live on Georgian television and replayed repeatedly on the eve of Bush's address here to a nation moving toward democracy.

Bush's public dance steps usually consist of 45-second waltzes at inaugural balls -- not the kind of hip action that Georgians witnessed on a cobblestone square in front of a 13th century church in the capital's old town area.

"Dancers told me that they liked his rhythm," Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said later. "He was much better than I would ever be."

The dance was not the only unusual aspect of Bush's first few hours in Georgia, site of the 2003 "Rose Revolution" that ousted President Eduard A. Shevardnadze and replaced him with U.S.-educated Saakashvili.

The U.S. president is typically a stickler for keeping a schedule -- and, as First Lady Laura Bush noted at a recent gala, is usually in bed by 9 p.m.

On this night in Tbilisi, the president blew the schedule -- turning what was supposed to be a perfunctory, half-hour visit to see native music and dance into a nearly two-hour affair. The Bushes, rarely spontaneous, decided to join the Georgian first couple for dinner at a local restaurant. The president went to bed well after 10.

The break from tradition might well have reflected a different mood here for the traveling president.

In Moscow, he met with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, with whom his relations have sometimes been tense. Saakashvili, 37, is a symbol of Bush's second-term agenda of promoting democracy around the world.

Thousands of people lined the streets in Tbilisi to welcome Bush's motorcade, and he is expected to address at least 100,000 today in Freedom Square, a pivotal site during the Rose Revolution.

Saakashvili told reporters that Bush's appearance, the first in this country by a U.S. president, would "energize" the move toward democratic reforms.

Of Bush's dancing, Saakashvili said, "He really captured the Georgian soul."

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