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Liberia's Newly Elected President Starts Regional Tour


Liberia's President-elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf stopped over in neighboring Ivory Coast on the first leg of a tour of western Africa. The trip will also take her to Nigeria, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was welcomed in Ivory Coast by about 100 members of the country's Liberian expatriate community.

Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf was in Abidjan for just a few hours Tuesday on her first foreign visit since winning Liberia's first post-war election earlier this month.

Liberian Jenkins Christian Minor was one of those who welcomed her.

"I came to Cote d'Ivoire during the head of the war, 1990 [during the start of the war in Liberia in 1990]," she said. "And I'm still here. I'm so glad that we have a president, a president of reconciliation, a president of stability, a president of peace, and a God-chosen president."

Millions fled Liberia during nearly a decade and a half of on-and-off fighting. Despite an end to fighting in 2003 and the departure of former warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor, many Liberians are still refugees. Tens of thousands remain in Ivory Coast.

During her visit to Abidjan, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf said it was time for all Liberians to come home. She asked the United Nations refugee agency for help.

Mr. Minor, most of whose family now lives in the United States, says he is ready to return and wants the other members of his family also to return.

"While everything is all right, I think I'll call my family back home, so we can live happily, because we all have to go back home to rebuild our country. We cannot stay out and say we want to reconstruct Liberia. No. We have to go back home," said Mr. Minor.

Liberia is facing a long period of reconstruction. The country is still without electricity and running water. Much of the infrastructure will need to be built from scratch.

One of the goals of this trip, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf said, is to promote cooperation and stability in a region that has been wracked by a recurring cycle of civil wars over the past several decades.

Ivory Coast is currently divided into a rebel-held north and government-controlled south. Sierra Leone, another stop on her trip, is recovering from its own civil war. And neighboring Guinea, many experts predict, will be the next regional trouble spot.

Next up on Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf's four-nation tour Tuesday is Nigeria and meetings with President Olusegun Obasanjo and members of his government.

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