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Bush Visit Sparks Expectations in Benin

President Bush is scheduled to make his first stop on his Africa tour in the small West African country of Benin. A brief airport meeting is planned Saturday with his counterpart Boni Yayi, to discuss aid and the fight against diseases, like HIV/AIDS and malaria. Although the visit will be brief, expectations are high among residents of the capital Cotonou, as VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

Business consultant Claudio Gbedjinou says he is hoping the Bush visit will bring something new.

Gbedjinou says it is an honor, because President Bush does not visit every country in the world.

But he says he would have preferred an official visit, rather than a lightning-quick stop, expected to last just two hours. He adds that it will be difficult for President Bush to get a sense of the human warmth of Cotonou.

One law student says Benin is a very small, democratic country, without problems besides poverty.

He says he hopes the talks between the two presidents will solidify relations and help further projects like the Millennium Challenge Account, an initiative by President Bush to provide funding to countries that adhere to democratic and open market principles.

The U.S. government has pledged over $300 million to help Benin improve its economic infrastructure, but so far Benin government officials say only about 10 percent of that money has been made available.

Many residents are simply curious about the Bush visit.

This man, who works for the government, says he has never experienced a U.S. presidential visit.

He says President Bush should not worry about al-Qaida terrorists in Benin. He says African countries, like Benin, have too few resources, to have such extremists.

Benin's economy is dominated by cotton exports. Many in that sector have complained about ongoing U.S. subsidies to American cotton farmers, which are supposed to be phased out following rulings by the World Trade Organization. But the question of subsidies has not dampened enthusiasm.

This official at Cotonou's port says he is happy about the visit and hopes it will make it easier for citizens of Benin to get visas to the United States.

Writer and political analyst George Bada says he hopes the warming up of Benin-U.S. relations will stimulate U.S. investment in the country because, he says, a poor country like Benin needs all the help it can get.

But Bada says he is worried as well. He says there is an old saying that states have no friends, only interests. So, he says, he wonders why the United States wants to help Benin now.

Before his visit, President Bush said it was morally important for the United States to help those who are suffering. During his Africa trip - which will also take him to Tanzania, Ghana, Rwanda and Liberia - he will also discuss health-related matters.

In his recent budget, Mr. Bush requested $30 billion over five years to fund the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which has been credited for its role in getting drugs and treatment programs to places hard hit by the virus.

Meanwhile, U.S. plans to establish a military command in Africa, known as AFRICOM, have raised alarm among many Africans, and will likely be discussed, but no major announcements are expected.