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US President George W Bush on Saturday launched a five-country Africa swing, highlighting US-backed victories against disease and poverty and calling for action to help "trouble spots" Darfur and Kenya.
During an hours-long stop in the tiny west-African country of Benin, Bush pushed for a "robust" UN peacekeeping force in the troubled Sudanese province and threw his support behind a possible power-sharing deal in Nairobi.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, expected in the Kenyan capital on Monday, will deliver a "clear message" that Washington wants an agreement to end violence that has left an estimated 1,000 people dead, he said.
"The key is that the leaders hear from her first hand US desires to see that there be no violence and that there be a power-sharing agreement that will help this nation resolve its difficulties," said the US president.
Bush also defended the trip's focus away from regional conflicts and on the fruits of Washington's cooperation with African partners to battle malaria and HIV/AIDS, as well as promote democratic and free-market reforms.
"This a large place, with a lot of nations, and no question not everything is perfect. On the other hand, there's a lot of great success stories and the United States is pleased to be involved with those success stories," he said.
Bush was also bound for Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia in what was expected to be his final trip to Africa before leaving office in January 2009 – and he urged whomever succeeds him not to neglect the continent.
"My trip here is a way to remind future presidents and future congresses that it is in the national interest and in the moral interest of the United States of America to help people," he said during a joint public appearance with Benin's President Boni Yayi.
"The visit of the president is a symbol," Yayi said through an interpreter. "He is here to support the countries which strive to be virtuous, the governments which accept to work on behalf of their people."
Rice's spokesman, Sean McCormack, has said she will travel to Kenya on Monday for several hours to meet President Mwai Kibaki as well as his rival, Raila Odinga, who accuses Kibaki of having stolen the December 27 election.
"That's what diplomacy is. We've been active on all fronts" the US president said, calling his meetings with regional leaders a chance to seek "ways forward on trouble spots."
On Darfur, Bush said that once he had decided not to send US troops there, "there's not many other avenues, except for the United Nations and a peacekeeping force."
"We're sanctioning some, rallying others to provide aid, in the hopes that there be a robust UN force in Darfur that would help relieve the suffering," said Bush, who told reporters he had pressed China to help.
Bush and Yayi said they had discussed the fight against malaria in Benin – which launched a US-backed campaign against the disease in October – as well as a campaign to cut global poverty in half by 2015.
The United States has provided Benin with $307 million (Dh1.12 billion) under a five-year "Millennium Challenge Account" deal. The MCA aims to reward democratic and free-market reforms.
Since democracy returned to Benin in 1990, Washington has also provided about $250 million (Dh912.5 million) to cover education, health, and anti-corruption drives.
Bush was last in Africa in 2003, when he visited Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, and Nigeria. (AFP)
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