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Singing, Shouting Mark Bush Liberia Visit


Singing, sweeping, security and shouting marked President Bush's brief visit to Liberia Thursday. The West African country, carved out for freed American slaves, is still struggling to recover from a drawn-out civil war and decades of poor governance and civil unrest. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from Monrovia.

Sweepers for the Bush visit were out on the streets of the Liberian capital to make the sewage filled city a bit more presentable along the U.S. president's route, as he made his way to government buildings for ceremonies and meetings with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf about poverty reduction. He then went to a military training center for the closing speech of his five-nation Africa tour and the University of Liberia for exchanges with student leaders and teachers.

Thousands lined the streets, including a group of women, singing for peace and better governance.

As United Nations helicopters hovered overhead, 12th-grade student, K. Moses Yoko, said it would have been nice to meet with Mr. Bush directly.

"If I had one minute to talk to him, I would ask him to bring support here in the country to help us and give us free education," Yoko said.

Yoko said he has to pay for his annual school fee of about $250 at the run-down Richard Nixon Institute, named after another U.S. president, by selling tissue, soap and peppermint on the streets of the capital.

He is the only member in his family of 12 children to go to school.

Scuffles also broke out along the route as U.S and U.N. trained police said they were trying to prevent any large, unruly gatherings.

At police headquarters, the chairman of the Forum for the Establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia, Mulbah Morlu, said he had been detained with two other leaders of his group, after trying to deliver a petition to Mr. Bush.

A police spokesman denied he had been arrested, and said police officials were having a discussion with the three men.

Morlu says he believes Mr. Bush would be responsive to his pleas for a War Crimes Court.

"He just said during an address that the people of Kenya deserve justice in the recent electoral violence protest situation," Morlu said. "So if 1,000 people were murdered in Kenya through political violence as opposed to 300,000 people butchered in Liberia in the 14-year civil crisis, I do not think the man George Bush is going to allow such a brutal exercise to pass his condemnation. I strongly believe he is going to support this process."

But Liberian Information Minister Laurence Bropleh told VOA the government is working with the international community to continue the ongoing Truth and Reconciliation Commission, known as the TRC, an open forum for war-related accusations and admissions, which has just started work outside the capital.

"A war crimes court is not something that you go to the market and you purchase or you make a wish list and Mr. Bush comes and then you say give us a war crimes court," Bropleh said. "A war crimes court is a combination of many things. It is extremely expensive to engage in that endeavor and the Liberians themselves opted for the TRC process, and this is what the international community has said. I believe the war crimes court is not the best thing for Liberia."

A supporter of the proposed court, who wished to remain unnamed, said he was angry police had disrupted the planned protest. He said those responsible for war crimes should be jailed, and that peaceful protesters should not be impeded.

"They are violating his constitutional rights because, according to the constitution of this nation, a citizen has the right to demonstrate without the approval of the Ministry of Justice," he said.

As a crowd gathered around, police asked that the interviews be stopped, and that everyone disperse to ensure total security for the Bush visit.


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