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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 February 2008, 17:56 GMT
Bush ends five-nation Africa tour
US President George W Bush and Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Monrovia
Liberia sees its relationship with the US as unique
US President George W Bush has ended a five-country tour of Africa with a visit to Liberia, one of America's staunchest allies on the continent.

Mr Bush met Africa's first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, whom he praised for leading Liberia's recovery from a 14-year civil war.

"The United States will stand with you as you rebuild your country," he said.

Mr Bush has used his six-day trip mainly to showcase US-funded projects to combat HIV/Aids and malaria.

There were also strategic considerations too - countering the influence of China, which has been doing billions of dollars worth of trade deals in Africa, and allaying concerns over plans for a new US military base.

Mr Bush has denied planning a US military expansion in Africa to safeguard US interests.

He said the new command, Africom, would provide African states with military training and assistance so they could handle Africa's problems better.

So far, Liberia is the only country among the 53 African nations that has offered to host Africom.

Unique friendship

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Bush told his Liberian counterpart that the US would continue to lend a hand to make the country a symbol of liberty for Africa and the world.

He pledged US support to tackle poverty and disease, as well as an education initiative - one million books, desks and seating for at least 10,000 students by the beginning of the next school year.

He also pointed out that the US, alongside the UN, was helping to train new Liberian armed forces following the country's protracted civil war, which finally ended in 2003.

Despite the two countries' good relationship, Mr Bush's visit was the first by an American president in 30 years.

Freed slaves from the American south founded the country in 1847 and they brought the habits and symbols of America with them.

Liberians still speak English with an American accent; they trade in Liberian dollars; and their national flag is a copy of the stars and stripes - although the Liberian version has just one star instead of 50.

In contrast to Liberia, many African nations are wary of hosting a US military presence, which some critics claim is intended only to tighten America's grip on a vital future source of oil.

US President George W Bush and Ghanaian President John Kufuor in Accra, Ghana
Mr Bush said the US did not want to add new bases in Africa
BBC correspondent Mark Doyle says Washington could do worse than opt for Liberia if it wants an African base.

Although its significance in strategic terms is negligible, its international airport has a runway capable of taking big transport planes and the main seaport, although in dire need of refurbishment, is also large by the standards of the region.

On Wednesday in Ghana, Mr Bush announced a new $350m (180m) five-year plan to fight what he described as "neglected tropical diseases" such as hookworm or river blindness across Africa.

He also noted that the US had pledged $17m (8.8m) to help the Ghanaian government in the fight against malaria.

But he did not respond to a direct appeal by President John Kufuor to stop subsidising US cotton farmers - a policy which leaves cotton-producing West Africa unable to compete.

He also visited Benin, Tanzania and Rwanda on his second presidential tour of Africa.

President Bush on his five-nation tour of Africa

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