Bush awards highest US honour to Blair, Howard, Uribe

January 14th, 2009 - 3:46 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 14 (DPA) US President George W. Bush honoured three longtime friends and allies with the highest US civilian honour Tuesday, bestowing the Presidential Medal of Freedom on former British prime minister Tony Blair, former Australian prime minister John Howard and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.As he prepares to leave office next week, Bush said working with the leaders was among his greatest satisfactions as president and called “each one of them a true friend of the US who met historic challenges with great tenacity and who provides a lasting example of statesmanship at home and abroad”.

Bush, whose eight years in office have been marked by the unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly praised Blair and Howard for their support in those conflicts. He noted their alliances before the Sep 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and assistance afterward.

“As I said after the first meeting, I knew that when either of us gets in a bind, there will be a friend on the other end of the phone,” Bush said of Blair, the UN’s current Mideast envoy who served as prime minister from 1997 to 2007. “My friend was there indeed after America was attacked on September the 11th, 2001, and it just wasn’t on the phone line.”

Both Blair and Howard came under fire in their own countries for their support of the Iraq war and Bush praised them for their dedication even in the face of challenges.

Of Howard, the Australian prime minister from 1996 to 2007, Bush said, “He never wavered in his support for liberty and free institutions, and the rule of law as the true and hopeful alternative to ideologies of violence and repression.”

Uribe, who has led Colombia since 2002, was singled out for his efforts to curtail leftist rebels and crime. Bush noted the phone call from Uribe in July informing him that three US contractors held hostage by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had been freed in a military operation.

“By refusing to allow the land he loves to be destroyed by an enemy within; by proving that terror can be opposed and defeated, President Uribe has reawakened the hopes of his countrymen, and shown a model of leadership to a watching world,” Bush said.

Uribe’s honour came underfire from human rights groups who said his government has seen an increase in extrajudicial killings by the military and a lack of action against paramilitary groups.

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