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Bush Pledges New Aid for Liberian Schoolchildren


President Bush has announced new American funds to help Liberia rebuild its education system. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports the president visited this civil-war scarred country on the last stop of a five-nation tour of Africa.

Liberian troops snapped to attention as President Bush and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf reviewed an honor guard at Robertsfield Airport outside the capital.

Schoolchildren waving American and Liberian flags lined the president's route through neighborhoods still badly damaged by years of civil war that killed more than 200,000 people and displaced millions more.

While most of that fighting ended in 1996, the rebel leader elected president did little to improve the lives of his people. Instead, Charles Taylor helped fuel rebellion in neighboring Sierra Leone.

President Bush sent U.S. Marines into Monrovia, upping the pressure on President Taylor who ultimately resigned and went into exile in Nigeria. He is currently facing war crimes charges in The Hague.

President Bush has remained engaged in this nation founded by freed American slaves. Since 2003, the United States has spent more than $200 million on peacekeepers here and $139 million on reforming the armed forces.

Mr. Bush has been a strong supporter of President Johnson Sirleaf. First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attended her inauguration. Last November, Mr. Bush awarded her America's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Billboard-sized photos of that White House ceremony decorate Monrovia for this first visit by an American president in 30 years.

In remarks at the capital's main army barracks, President Bush said Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf has been a strong leader for Liberia.

"She has been a strong partner of the United States of America," he said. "I am proud to call her friend. And I am proud of the work we are doing together to help the people of this nation build a better life."

The president said America will give Liberia one million textbooks before the start of the next school year and fund the purchase of desks and chairs for 10,000 schoolchildren. By producing that furniture locally, the new assistance will create jobs to help the economy as well as children.

President Johnson Sirleaf said Mr. Bush's support for her government shows that Liberia is back on track and open for business with America and the world.

"We thank God that the guns of war are silenced, our reconciliation process is under way, our people are beginning to sleep more soundly at night, our children are smiling again, and Liberians at home and abroad are reclaiming their pride and national identity," she said.

President Bush returns to Washington after a six-day trip to Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana, and Liberia.

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