With just hours left in his presidency, outgoing US President George W. Bush on Monday made a round of phone calls to more than a dozen leaders around the globe.
The White House said Bush chatted with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili; Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin; South Korean President Lee Myung-bak; Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen; Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi; former Mexican president Vicente Fox; Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso; British Prime Minister Gordon Brown; Israeli President Shimon Peres; Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva; French President Nicolas Sarkozy; and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that during the farewell calls, Bush thanked the leaders for the hospitality they had shown him and first lady Laura Bush over the years.
Bush on Monday also granted early prison releases to two former US border patrol agents, whose convictions for shooting a Mexican drug dealer fueled the national debate over illegal immigration.
Bush, responding to heavy pressure from Republican and Democrat lawmakers, commuted the prison sentences of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. The two guards from El Paso, Texas, each were sentenced to more than 10 years for the shooting, which they tried to cover up.
They will be released within two months.
Opposition to their convictions, sentencing and firings has simmered ever since the shooting occurred in 2005.
“After four years of fighting this, it’s taken a toll on me and my daughter, and really the whole family,” said Joe Loya, Ramos’ father-in law, who has received tens of thousands of supportive e-mails and spent much of the past two years traveling the country to speak about the case.
“We wouldn’t give up ... I knew sooner or later God would come through — that finally it would happen,” he said.
Bush “has given us a chance to be a family again and I want to thank him for that,” Ramos’ wife, Monica, told Fox News Channel.
Mexican Deputy Secretary for Foreign Relations Carlos Rico condemned the decision and said Mexican officials had lobbied hard against it.
“This is a message of impunity,” Rico said at a news conference. “It’s difficult to understand.”
The border agents’ case became a rallying cause for conservatives concerned about border protection. On talk shows, people sympathetic with the agents argued that they were just doing their jobs, defending the US-Mexico border against criminals.