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Obama lands in Ghana after meeting pope

/ Source: The Associated Press

President Barack Obama arrived in Ghana Friday on his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa.

He landed soon after 9 p.m. local time and met a group of dignitaries, led by President John Atta Mills. An ethnic African group danced and banged drums for Obama's arrival.

After traveling to Russia and then Italy for a meeting of major industrial powers, Obama is making Ghana, on Africa's west coast, the last stop of his overseas trip.

Obama will make a speech to lawmakers there and tour an oceanfront fort once used to ship slaves to the Americas.

Earlier Friday, Obama said the world apparently has averted economic collapse but a "full recovery is still a ways off."

Obama, speaking at the end of the Group of Eight summit of major economic powers shortly before meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, said world leaders had taken significant measures to address economic, environmental and global security issues.

"Reckless actions by a few have fueled a recession that spans the globe," Obama said of the meltdown that began in the United States with a tumble in housing prices and drastic slowing of business lending. The downturn now threatens superpowers and emerging nations alike.

Obama urged national leaders to unite behind a global recovery plan that includes stricter financial regulation and sustained stimulus spending.

"The only way forward is through shared and persistent effort to combat threats to our peace, our peace, our prosperity and our common humanity wherever they may exist. None of this will be easy," Obama told a news conference at the end of the Group of Eight summit of major economic powers.

On other issues he said:

  • World leaders will reevaluate their posture toward Iran at a meeting in Pittsburgh in September of the world's 20 major industrial and developing economies. He cited "the appalling events of Iran's presidential election" and said the world would "take stock of Iran's progress" and watch its behavior.
  • That his top legislative priority — health care overhaul — had encountered rocky going in Congress during his overseas trip, with opposition building among both Republicans and economically conservative Democrats. Asked if that timetable was "do or die," Obama responded: "I never believe anything is do or die. But I want to get it done by the August recess."
  • Rising food prices mean millions more are falling into desperate poverty "and right now, at this defining moment, we face a choice. We can either shape our future or let events shape it for us." (Leaders at Friday's meetings also committed themselves to a $20 billion initiative to help farmers in poor countries boost production.)
  • The U.S. and Russia must show they're "fulfilling their commitments" to lead global efforts to curb the spread. If the two superpowers show they can limit or eliminate these weapons, it would strengthen their moral authority to speak to other potential nuclear nations such as North Korea and Iran.
  • He supports a streamlining of summits — the G-8, G-20 and NATO — and attending fewer of those meetings. He said the United Nations is in need of reform, but international summits fill a gap left by a U.N. structure that doesn't leverage its power as effectively as it could.

After the press conference, Obama sat down with the pope at the Vatican for a meeting in which frank but constructive talks were expected between two men who agree on helping the poor but disagree on abortion and stem cell research.

Shaking hands with the pope, Obama said it was "a great honor" to meet him.

They then sat at the pontiff's desk and exchanged pleasantries before reporters and photographers were ushered out of the ornate room.

Obama met first Friday with Cardinal Tarciso Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state.

Some Catholic activists and American bishops have been outspoken in their criticism of Obama, even as polls have shown he received a majority of Catholic votes.

Obama's election presented a challenge for the Vatican after eight years of common ground with President George W. Bush in opposing abortion, an issue that drew them together despite the Vatican's opposition to the war in Iraq.

But the Vatican has been openly interested in Obama's views and scheduled an unusual afternoon meeting to accommodate the American president at the end of his stay in Italy for a G-8 summit meeting in the earthquake-stricken city of L'Aquila and just before he leaves for Ghana.

Benedict broke Vatican protocol the day after Obama was elected by sending a personal note of congratulations rather than waiting and sending the usual brief telegram on Inauguration Day.

Huge welcome expected in GhanaIn Ghana, officials expect a tumultuous reception for Obama, whose father was from Kenya. Because of the first family's rather late arrival Friday night, the main ceremony in Accra will occur Saturday, before he departs for Washington after a weeklong trip that started in Russia.

To help accommodate the many who cannot attend, U.S. and Ghanian officials have scheduled "watch parties," radio broadcasts and video coverage in theaters, parks and other places, including U.S. ambassadors’ residences.

The U.S. Mission to the African Union has invited representatives to watch Obama’s speech to the parliament. In Kenya, U.S. State Department officials plan to stream Voice of America’s coverage of the speech over cellular phones. And Sierra Leone plans to broadcast the speech at more than 500 cinemas.

Obama will become the third straight U.S. president to visit Ghana, a relatively stable democracy in a continent wracked by poverty and heavy-handed governments. But he is the first such president of African descent.

Obama chose Ghana, Gavin said, "because it's such an admirable example of strong, democratic governance, vibrant civil society." There's much to admire, she said, and to hold up as "a counter to what one often hears about Africa."

On Saturday, Obama will meet with Ghana's president, John Atta Mills, and address the nation's parliament.