Bush Pledges Support for War-Stricken Liberia

President Bush spent a few hours in Liberia on Thursday, the last stop in a five-nation, six-day Africa tour. While in the city of Monrovia, the president promised to support development in Liberia, which was eviscerated during a brutal 14-year civil war.

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The last stop on President Bush's tour of Africa is Liberia. And that West African nation tests all of the president's goals for improving quality of life on the continent.

As NPR's Gwen Thompkins reports, Liberia needs just about everything.

GWEN THOMPKINS: Over the past week, Mr. Bush has touched ground that no other sitting U.S. president has ever felt underneath his feet. He has gone to Benin and Tanzania - two of the poorest countries on the African continent. And he has congratulated their efforts toward good governance. He has announced hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid for disease prevention and the building of much needed infrastructure in those places and in Ghana and Rwanda as well.

Liberia is the last stop of Mr. Bush's tour of the continent, and U.S. aid here covers all of Mr. Bush's objectives. It also pays in large part for a United Nation's peacekeeping presence here, and for the training of Liberian security forces who will ultimately replace the peacekeepers.

But every U.S. dollar in grant money to Liberia can seem like a dewdrop in a drought. A series of greed dictators and an ugly civil war have depleted Liberia. Since the war ended in 2003, the country has had to start from scratch. It is yet to provide basic life necessities to all its citizens. But today, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf called for trade not aid.

President ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF (Liberia): We are proud. Proud that our nation has full ownership of our agenda, and it fuels primary responsibility for our own destiny. We intend to make the private sector the means into the broken economy - investment and business partnerships rather than humanitarian handouts.

(Soundbite of applause)

THOMPKINS: In a rousing speech, Sirleaf thanked Mr. and Mrs. Bush for their attention to Liberia. Mr. Bush announced U.S. support would continue.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: It's easier to tear a country down than it is to rebuild a country.

Unidentified Woman: Absolutely.

President BUSH: And the people of this good country must understand the United States will stand with you as you rebuild your country.

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

THOMPKINS: President Bush announced that the U.S. will send one million books for the schoolchildren of Liberia, and pay for desks and chairs to be built. Mr. Bush then congratulated the people of Liberia for electing Sirleaf president. She is the first woman to be elected president of an African nation. Last year, he awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Monrovia.

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