bush lands in liberia

MONROVIA - President George Bush arrived yesterday in Liberia, the US's staunchest ally in Africa, on the fifth and final stop of his visit to the world's poorest continent.

MONROVIA - President George Bush arrived yesterday in Liberia, the US's staunchest ally in Africa, on the fifth and final stop of his visit to the world's poorest continent.

Air Force One, carrying Bush and his wife Laura, landed at Monrovia's Spriggs Payne Airport. It was the first visit in 30 years by a US president to Liberia, Africa's first republic founded by freed slaves from America in 1847.

During his one-day visit to the small English-speaking West African state, Bush was to hold talks with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa's first elected female leader.

He was due to speak at a US-funded military training facility where US defence contractors have been training the new Liberian army following the end of a devastating 1989-2003 civil war which killed 200000 people.

Since 2003, Washington has spent more than a billion rand to help modernise Liberia's armed forces. Bush was also due to announce a donation of 1million textbooks and desks for 10000 Liberian school children.

Liberia is the final stop of a five-nation tour of Africa by the US leader, who in the last year of his presidency, is seeking to highlight foreign policy success stories backing health, education and good governance projects on the continent.

During visits this week to Benin, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ghana, Bush promoted his multi-billion dollar anti-malaria and anti-Aids projects in Africa and backed efforts to solve crises in Kenya and Darfur.

Liberia has long regarded the US as its "big brother". During the Cold War, it served as the CIA's main listening post in Africa. While other African countries have spurned US overtures for a greater military presence on the continent, Liberia has said it would willingly host a new continental US military command, known as Africom.

Speaking in Ghana on Wednesday, Bush tried to assuage fears of a military build-up, saying the US did not plan to build any new military bases, but could still put "some kind of office" representing Africom on the continent.

Some Liberians complain that Washington ignored the West African country during the 1989-2003 civil war. Some said Bush's arrival was prompted by concern at China's growing commercial presence in Africa.

Relations between China and Liberia have flourished since Monrovia severed ties with Taiwan in 2003.

Bush's trip follows a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao just over a year ago. - Reuters

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