Clinton arrives in Liberia

MONROVIA: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Liberia on Thursday in a show of support for Africa's only female leader, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has faced calls to quit after a probe into the country's civil war.

Clinton arrived in Monrovia to pouring rain but still found one of the most rousing welcomes of her trip with young people from a peace movement dancing and beating drums on the tarmac.

As the motorcade headed past ramshackle homes into the capital, dozens of schoolchildren held up signs welcoming Clinton and declaring their pride in Barack Obama, the first African-American US president.

"Hillary Clinton -- The women of Liberia salute you!" read one banner held by a group of several hundred women.

Clinton flew in from Nigeria on the sixth leg of a tour of seven African nations as Washington seeks to restate its case on a resource-rich continent facing some of the most serious development and social challenges.

On arrival, she went into a meeting with President Sirleaf, 70, who was elected in 2005 in the aftermath of bloody civil wars from 1989 to 2003 which cost an estimated 300,000 lives.

Liberia, founded by freed US slaves in the 19th century, lies on the Gulf of Guinea, a region of strategic importance for its oil which has attracted the attention of many outside parties, especially China in recent years.

Sirleaf has won strong support overseas, particularly in the United States, as she spearheads efforts to rebuild, but earlier this year, Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended she be banned from political activity for 30 years because of alleged involvement in the civil wars.

Johnnie Carson, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs, said on Wednesday that Clinton "wants to reaffirm US support" for Sirleaf.

"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 given its historic links.

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 an upsurge in rape.

In an interview in Nigeria, Clinton -- who narrowly lost to Obama in her bid last year to be the first female US leader -- said no country could reach full development without 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.

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 the civil wars.

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

Sirleaf has admitted she met Taylor several times and helped raise funds for him but denies she was ever a member of his National Patriotic Front of Liberia.

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