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Obama Takes In Brazil With an Eye on U.S. Strikes in Libya

  • President Barack Obama, into a vehicle, bottom right, arrives in the slum Cidade de Deus, or City of God,  in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, March 20, 2011. Obama arrived in Brazil on Saturday for the start of a three-country, five-day tour of Latin America. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana))

    President Barack Obama, into a vehicle, bottom right, arrives in the slum Cidade de Deus, or City of God, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, March 20, 2011. Obama arrived in Brazil on Saturday for the start of a three-country, five-day tour of Latin America. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana))  (AP2011)

  • President Barack Obama, into a vehicle, bottom right, arrives in the slum Cidade de Deus, or City of God,  in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, March 20, 2011. Obama arrived in Brazil on Saturday for the start of a three-country, five-day tour of Latin America. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana))

    President Barack Obama, into a vehicle, bottom right, arrives in the slum Cidade de Deus, or City of God, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, March 20, 2011. Obama arrived in Brazil on Saturday for the start of a three-country, five-day tour of Latin America. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana))  (AP2011)

President Barack Obama played the role of tourist to Rio de Janeiro's vivid extremes on Sunday -- motorcading from brilliant beaches to a notorious slum with his mind on the developments of U.S. and European strikes in Libya.

With his whole family in tow on the second day of a Latin American tour meant to knit economic and cultural ties, the president visited the City of God shantytown that gained fame after a movie by the same name was nominated for four Oscars. At a community center in the heart of the jostling slum, the president plunged into the lives of children there, playing soccer with kids and watching enthralled at a dazzling martial arts display.

The president shed his coat and tie, rolled up his sleeves and dribbled one-on-one soccer with one surprised boy. Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia got involved, too, kicking a ball around with the kids.

Then the president walked out into the streets and waved to throngs of residents who cheered him from rooftops and balconies. Dozens of young children pressed up against a chainlink fence trying to get a look.

On the metal roofs of the poor shantybuildings armed guards stood by. It was a short visit but the president got a glimpse of the poverty of the slum, visceral scenes of jumbled dwellings, and people lining the streets.

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Meanwhile, seemingly a world away U.S. warplanes launched a coordinated assault against Moammar Gadhafi's defenses a day after the president authorized the military action to enforce an internationally authorized no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians. The president had been on a conference call with his top advisers earlier Sunday to get briefed on the effort as juggled his touristing and economic outreach in Latin America with the unceasing demands of being commander-in-chief.

The president's sightseeing Sunday was sure to endear him even more to a diverse and multicultural country where his personal story already makes him popular. That advances the overall goals of the five-day Latin American trip -- with Chile and El Salvador next on the itinerary -- which aims to cast Obama and the United States as attentive neighbors from the North, eager to capitalize on the region's economic successes while addressing common security concerns.

From the start, however, Obama's attention has been divided. He's been forced to shuttle from meetings with his host, President Dilma Rousseff, and with Brazilian and U.S. executives to briefings and secure calls with his national security team

With the conflict in North Africa sure to continue to intrude, Obama was heading from his shantytown tour to deliver a speech promoted as an address to the Brazilian people. He'll speak from inside the Theatro Municipal performance hall that sits on Cinelandia Plaza, a historic square that was the scene of a 1984 protest that set the stage for the eventual end of a 20-year military dictatorship.

The speech was originally billed as an outdoor event on the plaza open to all, but U.S. officials decided at the last-minute to move the speech inside the theater and make it invitation-only "due to a number of concerns," according to a Friday press release from the U.S. Embassy. Scaffolding for the stage on which Obama was to speak was quickly removed from the square.

The president will end his stay in Rio with a nighttime walking tour of Corcovado Mountain to the Christ the Redeemer Statue that is the very symbol of the city. Initially, Obama had planned to visit the Christ statue at mid-morning. Aides said the change in schedule and shifting the speech to an indoor venue were due to logistical adjustments. They said they feared the statue would be shrouded in fog Sunday -- a mist did cover the hills around Rio.

But the changes had the effect of lowering Obama's profile in the city, reducing the opportunity for clashing images as international attention remained riveted in Libya.

Daniel Restrepo, a White House national security adviser, said the shantytown tour, the speech and the visit to the iconic statue "underscore the connection between the United States and Brazil at the most basic level."

Restrepo said the dual image of Obama touring Rio while directing military operations elsewhere illustrated his commitment to reaching out to Latin American neighbors. He said it was important for the president to pay attention to all U.S. relationships.

"Making sure that we're staying vigilant and the president is working those issues while he's working a whole range of issues is not an incongruous message," Restrepo said.

Rousseff displayed no hint that Obama's multitasking was diluting the impact of his visit. She expressed personal delight that Obama had placed Brazil first in his tour of the region and that he had chosen to visit so early in her administration. She took note that she was the first female president of Brazil, hosting the first African American president.

"And this is even more important and has a greater significance when we remember that the U.S. and Brazil are the two countries that have the largest black population outside Africa," she said.

Indeed, Obama commands significant attention, even affection, in Brazil. In the capital, Brasilia, children greeted Obama with hugs and tears as they waved U.S. and Brazilian flags.

Still, Rousseff also did not hide her frustration at not getting Obama's endorsement for highly sought permanent seat on the United Nation's Security Council. Brazil now holds a rotating seat, and Rousseff's renewed request for a permanent seat came two days after Brazil abstained from voting on the U.S.-backed resolution establishing a no-fly zone over Libya.

The two leaders did sign agreements on trade and economic cooperation, an early step toward a free-trade relationship, and approved a deal for expanded air service between the two countries.

Obama departs Brazil on Sunday and heads for Chile. On Tuesday he goes to El Salvador.

The president is traveling with his wife, Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and Mrs. Obama's mother, Marian Robinson.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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