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Liberians Eager for Bush Visit


Liberians in the war-damaged capital Monrovia are eagerly awaiting President Bush's daytime visit on Thursday, at the end of his five nation African tour. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from the Liberian capital.

Students at the University of Liberia are warming up their vocal chords for Mr. Bush's visit, which will include a 40-minute stop to look at a U.S.-funded teacher training project.

University president Al-Hassan Conteh says he will be happy to focus on education with Mr. Bush.

"The fact that I will be shaking President Bush's hand and introducing him to this panel that he is going to talk about on education, it is very, very, important because education is our problem," said Al-Hassan Conteh. "We are getting away from that period where we have had this negative publicity as a result of the war. We now have a president who is internationally respected. I am talking about Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and we are piggy backing on that respectability to showcase higher education and make sure that we move away our students from a war mindset to a mindset of freedom and justice."

Over the past few years, registration at the university has been increasing, leaving the main campus overcrowded with about 15,000 students in an area meant for 3,000.

Musicians also warmed up in front of the former executive grounds in downtown Monrovia, which are delapidated and have not been used since the early 1970s. The current executive building is also out of use because of a fire in the president's office in July 2006.

Instead, Liberian President Sirleaf will meet with Mr. Bush at the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

A U.S-educated pastor, G. Wesseh Bestman, says he has been on a prayer team for Mr. Bush.

"I am so grateful that he will have a chance to just step here," said Bestman. "I have a little regret that will not be able to spend a night, because I know that we do not have anywhere for him. But it is so good, emotions are beyond description."

In the busy Nancy B. Doe Jogbeh Town Market, recently renovated by Liberia's government, Lusu Boakai is selling homemade spices. She is also overjoyed by Mr. Bush's visit.

"First of all, I tell him, God thank you," said Lusu Boakai. "Please help our government. War made [our country] to go bad and behind. Please help our government, our president to come up, because one hand, it cannot make it. The American people are part of Liberia, as we used to see it. But since the war came, we came behind. I can tell him please, help our government. We depend on you, please, that is what I can say."

The Liberians interviewed for this report said they have always felt close to the United States and want more U.S involvement rather than less.

The country's long running civil unrest ended in 2003 when then-president Charles Taylor fled into exile.

Liberia was created on territory carved out by the American Colonization Society during the first half of the 1800s for freed American slaves, who imposed on native populations a system of forced labor until 1931.

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