First Lady to Attend Liberia's Presidential Inauguration

First lady Laura Bush will travel to Liberia to attend the Jan. 16 inauguration of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first female president elected in Africa, the White House announced Wednesday.

Mrs. Bush will lead a delegation from the United States that also includes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.

Johnson-Sirleaf, a former finance minister and veteran of Citibank and the United Nations, won a runoff election in November against soccer superstar George Weah. She said in her acceptance speech she would end the period of corrupt, male-dominated rule in war-plagued Liberia.

Liberia is Africa's oldest republic, founded in 1847 by freed American slaves. The country is still reeling from a brutal 1989-2003 civil war that left 200,000 dead.

"This delegation reflects the president's continued commitment to democracy and supporting countries making the difficult transition from war to peace, and from tyranny to liberty," McClellan said. "The United States looks forward to working with the new president and the people of Liberia to rebuild their institutions, establish stability and prosperity, and create an environment for reconciliation."

Rice spokesman Sean McCormack said the secretary met with Johnson-Sirleaf last month. He said Rice looks forward to attending an inauguration that marks an "important moment in the history of Africa."

McCormack said Rice's impression after their meeting was that Johnson-Sirleaf "would be a strong leader for the people of Liberia, to lead them out of this period that has been marked by violence and chaos."

Susan Whitson, spokeswoman for the first lady, said the rest of the delegation to the inauguration was still being determined.