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Laura Bush Arrives in Africa

U.S. first lady Laura Bush is in Africa at the start of a four day tour that includes the inauguration of the continent's first female head of state, Liberian President-elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Traditional Ghanaian drummers welcomed Mrs. Bush to Accra. She will meet with Ghanaian President John Kufour during this visit, and announce a partnership between six American universities and six African nations to develop individual kindergarten-through-eighth-grade curriculums.

She will also visit Nigeria to meet with President Olusegun Obasanjo, and speak about HIV/AIDS prevention at a hospital in the capital, Abuja.

But the centerpiece of this trip is Monday's inauguration of Liberian Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as Africa's first female head of state.

Speaking to reporters en route to Africa, Mrs. Bush said the Liberian president-elect is a shining example of women's empowerment.

The first lady is leading a delegation that includes her daughter, Barbara, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer says the strength of the delegation shows President Bush's commitment to Liberia and women's rights.

"President Bush is sending this high-level delegation to underscore the importance of Liberia's transition from war to peace, and towards a democratic consolidation for the Liberian people, the continent of Africa and the world at large," said Frazer. "The election of Africa's first female president is an inspiration for young girls and women across the continent."

The Bush administration last year contributed more than $840 million to Liberia, the bulk of which went to pay for United Nations peacekeepers. It also included $60 million to train Liberian police and $90 million to help returning refugees.

Mrs. Bush said one of the biggest problems facing Liberia is massive unemployment.

There is also the question of former rebel leader and head-of-state Charles Taylor, who is currently living in exile in Nigeria. Taylor started the war that ultimately toppled former military ruler Samuel Doe. Taylor is now wanted by a war crimes tribunal for his alleged support for human rights abuses in the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Assistant Secretary of State Frazer says the Bush administration still wants Taylor held accountable for his actions.

"Clearly, the United States continues to seek Charles Taylor having to answer, to be accountable for the atrocities he carried out in Sierra Leone, where he is indicted by the Sierra Leone special court, and throughout the Mano River states," said Frazer. "He was one of the major sources of instability in the region."

During a visit to Washington after her election, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf asked Secretary of State Rice about Taylor. Frazer says the secretary told the president-elect that Washington will continue to pursue the matter, and was encouraged by Nigerian President Obasanjo's statement to the U.N. General Assembly that the former Liberian leader should be turned over to the special court.

 

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