WASHINGTON President George W. Bush on Thursday urged his successor to carry on what he called his "freedom agenda" of promoting human rights, democracy, and free trade around the world.
Bush, with six months left in office, peppered a speech to mark "Captive Nations Week" with the phrases "in the years ahead" and "the challenge for future presidents and future Congresses" -- a nod to his waning White House days.
He spoke just hours before Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama made a speech in Germany during a trip to Europe and the Middle East seen as an effort to burnish his foreign policy credentials before the November U.S. elections.
"Over the past seven years, we've spoken out against human rights abuses by tyrannical regimes like those in Iran, Sudan, and Syria and Zimbabwe," Bush said.
"We've spoken candidly about human rights with nations with whom we've got good relations, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia and China."
He called again for the release of political prisoners, specifically mentioning Ayman Nour of Egypt, Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, Oscar Biscet of Cuba, and Riad Seif of Syria.
"The challenge for future presidents and future Congresses is to ensure that America always stands with those seeking freedom -- and never hesitates to shine the light of conscience on abuses of human rights across the world," Bush said.
Human rights activists and others have criticized Bush for setting up the detention facility at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where terrorism suspects have been held for years in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
They said harsh treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq and the practice of secretly flying detainees to third countries where critics say they were tortured undermined the credibility of the United States as a defender of civil rights.
Public opinion polls show Bush heading into his final months in office with low ratings due to the unpopular Iraq war and an economic downturn.
"We've removed regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq that threatened our citizens and the peace in the world," Bush said. "And now we're helping the people of those two nations fight the terrorists who want to establish new safe havens from which to launch attacks on America and our friends."
He also said "change is stirring" in Havana, Damascus and Tehran where people "dream of a free future, hope for a free future and believe that a free future will come. And it will."
"May God be with them in their struggle. America always will be," Bush said.
(Editing by David Storey)