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Obama Departs El Salvador

President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle prepare to depart San Salvador, March 23 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama is headed back to the United States, as he continues to deal with the crisis in Libya.

Mr. Obama cut short his visit to El Salvador by a few hours, skipping a tour of ancient Mayan ruins, to focus on coalition air strikes meant to protect Libyan civilians.

In an interview broadcast Wednesday on the Spanish language Univision network, Mr. Obama said the U.S. will start pulling back from its leading role in the international effort in Libya. He also said the U.S. will not send ground troops to Libya to end the violence.

Separately, Mr. Obama told CNN he hoped the air strikes would give the Libyan rebels a chance to organize.

The president has come under criticism for leaving the United States before the coalition air strikes began. The strikes are now in their fifth day. Members of Congress have also faulted him for not seeking their authorization before undertaking the military operation.

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

The five-day tour, which also included Brazil and Chile, 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.

Mr. 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.

He also said comprehensive immigration reform in the United States, including addressing the millions of undocumented workers in the country, is the right thing to do. He 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, Mr. 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.