Russian Duma speaker visits Slovakia on 60th anniversary of Slovak capital's liberation

Russian Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov started a two-day official visit to Slovakia on Monday, where he was also taking part in commemorative events marking the 60th anniversary of the Slovak capital's liberation by the Red Army during World War II.

"He (Gryzlov) has come on an important day," Slovak chairman of parliament Pavol Hrusovsky told reporters. "It was a good opportunity to remember this ... history."

The Red Army liberated the Nazi-occupied Bratislava on April 4, 1945, after days of a fierce fighting.

While in Bratislava, Gryzlov was to hand out 15 awards to Slovak veterans who fought on the Soviet side.

"I highly value that even after 60 years, they have not forgotten us," an 85-year old veteran Michal Rjavik, who fought in what is now Belarus and Slovakia, told reporters as he was arriving for the award-giving ceremony at the Bratislava Castle.

Gryzlov met with Hrusovsky for talks on economic cooperation and the political situation in both countries.

Gryzlov said he hoped that he had removed his Slovak counterpart's doubts about the level of democracy in Russia.

"Democracy is our definite decision," Gryzlov said.

Both officials said there was room for closer economic and trade ties - mainly in the nuclear and energy sectors - among the two countries, which once were part of the communist bloc.

Slovakia, where communist rule was toppled in 1989, became a member of the European Union and NATO last year.

Gryzlov was also meeting with Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on Monday.

ANDREA DUDIKOVA, Associated Press Writer

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