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Clinton heads to Liberia

ABUJA, Aug 13 – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to war-battered Liberia on Thursday in a show of support for Africa’s only female leader, who has faced calls to step down over actions during brutal civil wars.

After a packed day of meetings and public events in regional power Nigeria, Clinton planned a less than 24-hour visit to Liberia for talks with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the second to last stop on a seven-nation tour.

Africa’s first female head of state has won strong support overseas, particularly in the United States, as she spearheads efforts to rebuild the west African nation founded a century and a half ago by freed American slaves.

But Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission recently recommended that Sirleaf be banned from political activities for 30 years because of alleged involvement in the country’s civil wars between 1989 and 2003.

Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said that Clinton "wants to reaffirm US support" for Sircleaf.

"The secretary wants to use this visit to show and demonstrate US support for the democratic progress that has occurred in Liberia," Carson said.

He said Liberia was one of the most important nations in Africa for Washington due to historic reasons.

Clinton has made women’s rights a key theme on her 11-day tour, which included a lightning visit to the war-ravaged eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to comfort survivors of a rape epidemic.

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In an interview in Nigeria, Clinton – who narrowly lost her own bid last year to be the first female US leader – said that no country could reach a full stage of development without full participation in women.

"If African women decided to stop working tomorrow, the whole continent would shut down. People wouldn’t eat. Crops wouldn’t be planted and harvested," Clinton told popular Nigerian television talk show host Mo Abudu.

"From a moral perspective, we’re in the 21st century; all human beings, no matter what religion or ideology you reference, have the right to develop to their God-given potential," she said.

"And too many women in too many parts of Africa are not being developed fully."

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendation on Sirleaf has largely fallen on deaf ears internationally as attention turns instead to the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor.

The former leader and warlord is on trial on charges of murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers, enslavement and pillaging.

In a courtroom in The Hague last month, he denied that he had ever eaten human flesh but did not dispute that there were some cannibals in Liberia during its civil war.

He was handed over to the tribunal in 2006 following his arrest in Nigeria.

Clinton on Wednesday held wide-ranging talks in Nigeria aiming to build ties with Africa’s most populous nation.

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But she also urged Nigeria to do more to tackle corruption, warning that the endemic problem was holding back the regional power’s economy and standing on the global stage.

Sirleaf, 70, has admitted she met Taylor several times and helped raise funds for him when he was planning to topple former president Samuel Doe but denied she was ever a member of Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia.

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