US President George W. Bush ended a visit to Germany yesterday and left for a summit of the world's leading industrial nations in Russia.
During his two-day stay the US president toured the medieval Baltic port of Stralsund in the political homeland of his host, Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The two leaders cemented a growing bond with down-home diplomacy complete with cheering locals, a wild boar roast and a gift of pickled herring.
Bush kissed a beaming Merkel on both cheeks as he arrived in her home district in the former communist east, in a day filled with warm gestures underscoring her inclusion in his dwindling club of close European allies.
The president shook hands with smiling Germans in the crowd, then accepted the small barrel of the pickled fish and jokingly mimed eating one.
"I bring a message from the American people: We're honored to call the German people friends and allies," the US president told about 1,000 invited local guests on the Old Market Square of this handsome Baltic coast city.
"America and Germany stand side by side. We share common values and common interests. We want to work together to keep the peace. We want to work together to promote freedom. There's so much we can do, working together," he said.
Merkel, dressed in a cream-colored blazer, greeted Bush and his wife Laura with her husband Joachim Sauer, a reticent chemist who is so publicity shy he did not even attend his wife's swearing-in in November.
Laura Bush, wearing a dark blue suit, delivered a gift of 300 English-language books to a children's library and toured a local culture museum.
During a brief address in the town's historic marketplace on Thursday, Bush praised the "common values" between the US and Germany and described the chancellor as "a friend" with "a bold vision and a humble heart."
Merkel, who grew up in the former communist East Germany where Stralsund is located, thanked the US people for their support in helping Germany achieve unification, peace and freedom.
"We know that we owe a debt of gratitude to the United States because we are now able to live together in peace and freedom," she said to cheers from the crowd, waving US and German flags under intense summer sunshine.
The two leaders also expressed concern at the dramatic escalation of fighting in the Middle East and called on Iran to reply to an offer of political and economic incentives designed to resolve a dispute over its nuclear program.
Bush rounded off the visit on Thursday evening at a barbecue held at a former collective farm popular with the communist East German leadership in the 1960s.
The two leaders pressed the flesh among 60 invited guests at the roast -- Merkel in jeans and Bush tie-less -- as the president hoisted babies in the air and posed for locals armed with digital cameras.
Some 12,000 police were on duty during the visit, which attracted a series of small protests that resulted in 13 people being taken into temporary custody for minor infringements.
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