US takes democratic push to unlikely corner of W. Africa

LOME, Togo - US Secretary of Hillary Clinton started her West Africa trip celebrating democracy, swooping in for the inauguration of Liberia's democratically re-elected president and promising help to Ivory Coast as it recovers from a bloody post-election civil war.
She wound up the trip on Tuesday sitting in a grandiose presidential palace in the impoverished nation of Togo, talking UN Security Council politics with a young leader making his own tentative democratic steps after taking over from his father, once one of Africa's longest-ruling strongman.
Clinton's whirlwind trip - four countries in two days - highlighted what US officials say has been a resurgence of democracy in West Africa, long seen as lagging other parts of the continent as it struggles to free itself of military coups and ethnic violence.
But it also showed that the United States is determined to step up its engagement with the region, hoping to counter growing Chinese influence across Africa, shore up ties with important oil suppliers and build tighter security ties with governments targeted by both Islamic militant groups and narcotics trafficking networks.
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