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Obama Leaving Latin America Early to Focus on Libya

President Barack Obama pauses after answering questions on the ongoing situation in Libya during his joint news conference with President of El Salvador Mauricio Funes at the National Palace in San Salvador, El Salvador, March 22, 2011
President Barack Obama pauses after answering questions on the ongoing situation in Libya during his joint news conference with President of El Salvador Mauricio Funes at the National Palace in San Salvador, El Salvador, March 22, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama is skipping a visit to El Salvador's ancient Mayan ruins to focus on the growing crisis in Libya.

Obama is scheduled to fly back to Washington hours earlier than originally planned Wednesday.

The U.S. president has come under some criticism for remaining out of the United States while authorizing U.S. forces to help enforce a no-fly zone in Libya.

White House officials have taken special care to show that Obama is getting regular briefings from his staff.  And before departing, the president is scheduled to hold a conference call on the situation in Libya with national security advisers.

Tuesday, Obama met with El Salvador President Mauricio Funes in San Salvador.  The president promised a new partnership across Central America to increase trade, target drug trafficking and create job opportunities.

The five-day tour took Obama to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador and was designed to re-establish U.S. leadership in the region.  All three countries on the trip have undergone political transformations over the past decades.

Obama highlighted a U.S. pledge to provide $200 million to Central America so governments in the region can better police their borders and expand community anti-gang programs.

The president also addressed immigration reform in the United States.  He said comprehensive immigration reform, including addressing the millions of undocumented workers in the United States is the right thing to do.  Obama said he will continue to push for it but acknowledged that the politics of the issue are not easy.

The United States has more than two million immigrants from El Salvador, both legal and illegal.

Following his meeting with President Funes, Obama made a highly-symbolic visit to the grave of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the revered Catholic figure who was assassinated in 1980 by a member of a right-wing death squad.  Romero spoke out against repression by the U.S.-backed Salvadoran army during El Salvador's 12-year civil war.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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