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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgians Line Streets for Biden

ReutersBiden listening to Saakashvili speaking during a Tbilisi banquet Wednesday.
TBILISI, Georgia — After receiving a hero’s welcome in Tbilisi on Wednesday evening, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden declared that “America stands with you and will continue to stand.”

Biden arrived in Georgia from Ukraine on a mission to reassure both countries that the United States would not abandon them as it seeks to improve badly strained ties with Russia.

Biden pledged firm support for Georgia at a banquet thrown in his honor. He said he wanted to send this “unequivocal, clear message to all who will listen and some who don’t want to.”

That was an apparent reference to Russia, which opposes Georgia’s efforts to integrate more closely with the West.

At the Tbilisi airport, Biden was met by an honor guard in cream-colored uniforms and Prime Minister Nikoloz Gilauri as he stepped off Air Force Two.

Hundreds of Georgians lined streets along his route, holding signs saying “Don’t Forget Us” and “No to Occupation” — a reference to the Russian troops still stationed in two breakaway Georgian regions.

Biden’s motorcade also passed George W. Bush Street, marked by a large sign with the former U.S. president’s picture. Because of Bush’s steadfast support for Georgia, many here revered him even as he was widely disliked elsewhere abroad, and Bush drew huge crowds on a 2005 visit.

Biden, as former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also visited Georgia shortly after last year’s war with Russia.

President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government, shaken this spring by mass street protests demanding his resignation, appeared determined to head off any protests this week.

Ahead of Biden’s arrival, police removed dozens of metal cages the opposition had erected in front of the parliament to block traffic along Tbilisi’s central street and symbolize what critics call Saakashvili’s increasing authoritarianism.

Biden also planned to meet with leading opposition members who have taken part in the months of demonstrations. Political foes blame Saakashvili for the disastrous war with Russia and accuse him of riding roughshod over democratic rights.