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Sirleaf Gets to Work, Nominations Scrutinized

Now that inauguration festivities are over, Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is getting to work full time, while her choices for cabinet positions are being scrutinized. Meanwhile, Liberian children seem impressed by the new president's open style of leadership.

Before all the festivities were done late Tuesday, Mrs. Sirleaf was at work, and darting between meetings and public events, under the protection of American security agents.

She apologized for arriving late to an occasion held for traditional leaders.

"Before I say thank you, sir, let me apologize, let me say I am sorry, because you waited here a long time," she said. "And I beg your pardon for that, because I know you came this morning, and it was supposed to be a certain time, and I was in all kinds of meetings. But those meetings [are] for you because they are meetings to talk about you. They are meetings to talk about things for the country, they are meetings to talk with the people who will help us so they can help us to do things for the country."

Some of those meetings have revolved around selecting cabinet nominees. Technocrats and experienced government and international officials head the list.

At finance minister, Africa's first elected female leader has appointed former World Bank official Antoinette Sayeh. If confirmed, she would become just the second Liberian female finance minister. The first was Mrs. Sirleaf who took the job during the late 1970s.

Other early nominees include Koffi Woods at the Labor Ministry. He has been outspoken against foreign corporations exploiting Liberian workers.

A losing first round presidential candidate who backed Mrs. Sirleaf in the second round, Joseph Korto, has been nominated for the crucial position of Education Minister.

In all her speeches during inauguration festivities, Mrs. Sirleaf stressed the importance of rebuilding Liberia's war-shattered school system.

"I want to tell all of you, the children must go to school. Can you hear me right? That is the biggest thing for us to make our country strong, for all your children, from all the villages, from all the towns, all of them try to put them in school," she said. "We know that we do not have enough schools, we do not have enough schools buildings, enough teachers, we do not have enough school books, and pencils, and all those things that they need, well try to get them small, small [little by little], until we get enough. We must try and not let the children go in the market, and not let them go on the farm, they must go to school. I will depend upon the mothers to make sure that they help me, for us, achieve that objective."

Later, Mrs. Sirleaf walked outside the Executive Mansion, shaking the hands of hundreds of children, giving them advice and answering their questions.

Fifteen-year-old Alex Brown shook her hand, but said he did not have time to tell her what was on his mind.

"I would say thank you very much for bringing peace to our country, and that peace will still be on. I want for her to develop our country, we need good water, electricity and send us to school," he said.

One four-year-old had a prayer for her new president.

"Thank you, sister Ellen, for the good thing that you do. God, thank you sister Ellen, we bless you, follow God god bless you, sister Ellen, for the things that you do. I bless you, I give you honor," he said.

Mrs. Sirleaf is getting help from a large U.N. peacekeeping force as well as international advisors who will oversee government contracts. They are part of coordinated efforts by the international community to secure peace and rebuild Liberia after years of gross corruption, inept rule, and conflict that spilled across West African borders.