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Bush vows terrorists will not use Africa as new base

Sunday, July 13, 2003

ABUJA, Nigeria -- Wrapping up a five-day tour of the continent, President Bush said Saturday that he would not allow terrorists to use Africa as a base "to threaten the world." He also pledged American help in fighting AIDS and ending regional conflicts, including the brutal civil war in Liberia.

"I told the president we would be active" in helping to end further bloodshed in the West African nation, Bush told reporters about his meeting with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

In a farewell speech, Bush expressed confidence in the future of African nations.

"With greater opportunity, the peoples of Africa will build their own future of hope," he said at an annual summit on development in Africa. "And the United States will help this vast continent of possibilities to reach its full potential."

Mostly warm reception

Bush's tour of sub-Saharan Africa started Tuesday on the infamous slave coast on its western shores, moved to the far southern reaches and ended in its mid-section. He met with heads of state and talked about trade, terrorism and regional wars.

The president encountered large crowds eager to get a glimpse of a visiting U.S. president at his last two stops -- Uganda and Nigeria. But he got a chilly reception from about 1,000 anti-Bush, flag-burning demonstrators in South Africa where former president Nelson Mandela, perhaps the most respected political figure on the continent, has harshly criticized Bush and the war in Iraq.

All of the countries Bush visited, however, are allies in the war on terrorism.

Bush has proposed spending $100 million to help governments in east Africa, for example, fight terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida from increasing their activities.

One of the first stops on Bush's trip was the former slave depot on Goree Island in Senegal where he called slavery "one of the greatest crimes in history." The president did not apologize for slavery, but noted that Americans throughout history "clearly saw this sin and called it by name."

In Botswana, which has the highest HIV infection rate in the world, Bush declared the AIDS epidemic "the deadliest enemy Africa has ever faced."

At every stop, and again Saturday, Bush promised his hosts they would "not be alone" as they struggle to fight the deadly plague. He talked of his proposal to spend $15 billion over five years to help the hardest-hit African and Caribbean nations battle AIDS, even as Republicans trimmed it back home.

Bush also praised African leaders, including Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who are speaking out openly and candidly about the spread of the disease, exacerbated by the stigma still attached to it in many places.

"The people of Africa are fighting HIV/AIDS with courage," said Bush after a meeting with AIDS patients at a hospital here.

Though Bush came to Africa bearing no new initiatives, nor made any major new proposals while here, he preached the gospel of freer trade and his plan to increase by 50 percent the financial aid to developing countries that clean up their political, governing and trading practices.

He said Treasury Secretary John Snow would oversee an effort to help "strengthen and broaden capital markets" so businesses and individuals could get loans and bolster Africa's economies.

Over the week, he lent his weight to seeking to ease regional political crises, bringing pressure to bear on Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to restore democracy and participating in discussions on U.S. efforts to help end bloodshed in the Sudan.

On Liberia, the president continued to press for the ouster of President Charles Taylor, but left without announcing a decision on whether to send U.S. troops to Liberia to help enforce a cease-fire between warring factions.

Bush seemed to promise some military involvement, but said at one point that it might consist mostly of advisers and trainers supporting West African peacekeepers to avoid stretching American forces too thinly around the globe.

In Nigeria, an administration official said Bush and Obasanjo discussed specifics under which Taylor will live in exile in Nigeria. Obasanjo told Bush that Taylor, among other things, wants assurances about his family's protection before he makes good on his promise to step down, the official said.

On another matter, aides said Bush pressed Obasanjo to step up production from Nigeria's vast gas reserves to help it boost its struggling economy. Nigeria is Africa's leading oil producer and the fifth largest supplier of crude to the United States. The Bush administration is seeing to ease U.S. reliance on oil exports from the Persian Gulf.

Bush, joined on the trip by first lady Laura Bush and their daughter, Barbara, kept sightseeing to a minimum, but his travels did afford a couple of blush-worthy moments for the president.

In Botswana, Bush witnessed a pair of elephants mating during a trip to a nature reserve. And in South Africa, Bush appeared taken aback when he walked into the home of a U.S. ambassador and was greeted by women in black T-shirts and colorful skirts who danced, arms outstretched, and serenaded him, a cappella-style.


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