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Liberian President Appeals for US Support

In an address to the U.S. Congress, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has appealed to Americans to support her efforts to bring lasting peace and stability to her country.

President Sirleaf began by noting the strong historical ties between Liberia and the United States.

Liberia was founded in 1847 by freed American slaves, with a constitution based on the American model and its currency pegged to the U.S. dollar.

Moving to more recent developments in her country Ms. Sirleaf thanked the Bush administration for helping to facilitate the negotiated exile in 2003 of former President Charles Taylor, which created the conditions for the election that brought her to power:

"Thanks also to President Bush, whose strong resolve and public condemnation and appropriate action forced a tyrant into exile, and thanks to you, the members of this august [noble] body, who spurred the international effort that brought blessed peace to our nation," said Ms. Sirleaf.

Members of Congress are concerned about President Sirleaf's ability to avoid another outbreak of civil conflict in her country after 14 years of bloodletting between rival militias.

A congressional committee recently approved $50 million in support, but held up another 128 million dollars in regular budget funds.

Saying Liberians want neither patronage nor dependency, President Sirleaf listed some of the problems she faces.

"Mismanagement, corruption, bad governance, massive looting of public treasury and assets," she said. "Unlike the tsunami in Asia, and Katrina here in your own country, where the destruction and human casualty were caused by nature, we participated in, or stood silently by, in our own self destruction."

President Sirleaf's address to a joint meeting of Congress, an honor bestowed on a number of foreign leaders in recent years, preceded her scheduled meeting with President Bush next week.

She hopes for a commitment of more U.S. assistance, and sought to reassure lawmakers that money will not be wasted.

"We will demonstrate that democracy can work, even under the most challenging conditions," she added. "We will honor the suffering of our people, and Liberia will become a brilliant beacon, an example to Africa and to the world of what the love of liberty can achieve."

She also said Liberia is determined to join the global fight against terrorism, while demonstrating that the transformation from war to peace can succeed.

The Liberian leader thanked Nigeria for accepting Charles Taylor under an internationally negotiated agreement.

While stopping short of saying Liberia has, or will, formally request Taylor's extradition to face war crimes charges, she added Liberia has "little option" but to see that justice is done.