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BUSH PLAN WOULD EASE LATIN DEBT, FORM HEMISPHERIC FREE TRADE ZONE

President Bush wants to bolster Latin American economies by reducing their debt burden to the United States and encompassing the American hemisphere in a free trade zone, he said Wednesday.

"The prosperity of our hemisphere depends on trade, not aid," Bush said in an address to Latin American diplomats in the White House East Room.

Seeking to allay the fears of regional leaders that their problems have been overshadowed by the move toward democracy and market economies in Eastern Europe, Bush declared:

"We look forward to the day when not only are the Americas the first fully free democratic hemisphere -- but when all are equal partners in a free trade zone stretching from the port of Anchorage to Tierra del Fuega."

He said that barriers to free trade will not fall overnight but said Washington was prepared to enter free trade agreements with countries in Latin America.

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