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Bush: Slavery one of history's 'greatest crimes'

President pledges cooperation on Liberia

Bush peers through Goree Island's Door of No Return, where slaves boarded ships.
Bush peers through Goree Island's Door of No Return, where slaves boarded ships.

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Leon Harris is filing reports this week from Africa each morning in the 10 a.m. EDT hour. His series of reports will be part of the CNN Presents program "African Journey" Sunday at 8 p.m. EDT. 

Tour Dakar, Senegal, to learn about the people and their culture.
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On the first leg of his five-nation tour of Africa, President Bush condemns slavery as 'one of the greatest crimes of history.' CNN's Chris Burns reports.
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The crisis in Liberia is very much on the mind of U.S. President George W. Bush. Suzanne Malveaux reports from the first leg of his trip in Senegal.
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President Bush plans to promote his efforts to fight the spread of AIDS in Africa during a five-country tour of the continent.
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DAKAR, Senegal (CNN) -- Not far from buildings where Africans were ushered into bondage, President Bush condemned slavery Tuesday as "one of the greatest crimes of history" and said slaves ultimately "helped to set America free."

On the first day of his five-nation African trip, Bush spoke at a ceremony on Senegal's infamous Goree Island. From the 15th to 19th centuries, its dark and dank slave jails served as a point of departure for Africans on their so-called "middle passage" across the Atlantic to the Americas.

"One of the largest migrations of history was also one of the greatest crimes of history," Bush said. "Below the decks, the middle passage was a hot, narrow, sunless nightmare; weeks and months of confinement and abuse and confusion on a strange and lonely sea."

"The stolen sons and daughters of Africa helped to awaken the conscience of America," Bush said. "The very people traded into slavery helped to set America free. My nation's journey toward justice has not been easy and it is not over." (Bush transcript)

Once the gateway to a life of bondage, Goree Island has become a modern-day destination for descendents of African-American slaves and others who are compelled to peer into a dismal chapter in human history.

The island, set about two miles (three kilometers) off the Senegal coast, is still strewn with narrow, stone-paved streets lined with wooden doors. Vendors sell trinkets and woven baskets.

The island's dusty, cramped jails once separated captured men, women and children. Visitors express astonishment at the rooms' low ceilings and small spaces.

The focal point of the compound is called the Door of No Return. For centuries, millions of captives were forced through the stone-rimmed portal onto ships, leaving their African names and their birthplaces behind. Some slaves would survive the deadly ship passage to the Americas, many would not.

Earlier Tuesday, Bush met in the Senegal capital, Dakar, with leaders of the Economic Community of West African States on the ongoing crisis in Liberia -- which was settled in 1822 by freed American slaves.

"We're in the process of determining what is necessary to maintain the cease-fire and to allow for a peaceful transfer of power," said Bush, who has demanded that Liberian President Charles Taylor leave the country immediately.

Bush is considering sending peacekeeping forces to the nation ravaged by civil war.

A U.S. military assessment team arrived in Liberia on Monday to examine the situation and prospects for providing humanitarian aid. On Tuesday, a convoy of team members was turned back from visiting a refugee camp at a government-run checkpoint on the outskirts of Monrovia. (Full story)

Taylor -- who denies United Nations-backed war crimes charges against him -- has accepted an asylum offer in Nigeria. But Taylor says he will not leave Liberia until a peacekeeping force is in place, fearing a chaotic revolt within a leadership vacuum.

On his five-day tour of Africa, Bush brings with him U.S. pledges of $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS, $200 million in famine relief and $100 million to fight terrorism.

Bush's next stop was South Africa. He arrived in Pretoria at 11:07 p.m. (5:07 p.m. ET), was greeted by the minister of foreign affairs and an honor guard. He shook hands with a few greeters and immediately retired for the night. Following South Africa are stops in Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria.

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