Thursday, July 14, 2005

Building stability

The United States this week opened its largest embassy in West Africa when Ambassador Aubrey Hooks cut the ribbon on the new diplomatic compound in Ivory Coast, calling it a symbol of U.S. commitment to the troubled and impoverished nation.

“This magnificent new building is a symbol of American values and of the commitment of the United States of America to the future of Cote d’Ivoire and the countries of West Africa,” Mr. Hooks said, referring to the former French colony.

“This new building is a beautiful place to work and will help the United States and Cote d’Ivoire work together to promote the growth of genuine democratic institutions and expand economic opportunities for the people of our respective countries.”

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, whose term in office has been rocked by attempted coups and civil war, thanked the United States for maintaining its embassy in the country when other nations withdrew their diplomats because of the conflict that erupted in 2001. South Africa brokered an official end to the war in April.

“This event constitutes a new sign of hope for the return of peace in Cote d’Ivoire,” the president said of the opening ceremony. “The priority is to build unity and prosperity for this country to open its doors to the world.”

Mr. Gbagbo said his government was determined to help the United States complete the 235,000-square-foot building set in a secure residential area of Abidjan. Construction began three years ago.

“Even at the height of the tension, when acts of barbarism knew no bounds, I sent out people to check, and the construction works were still ongoing,” he said.

The $90 million diplomatic compound is a model for new American embassies because of its emphasis on security, said Maj. Gen. Charles Williams, director of the State Department’s Overseas Buildings Operations.

“The design of this office building is so exemplary that we have developed from it a standard embassy model … for all our new buildings worldwide,” he said at the ceremony.

Up from Down Under

Australia’s new ambassador arrived in Washington just in time to prepare for the visit of Prime Minister John Howard, a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism. He is expected here today for a private weekend before his official schedule begins next week.

Ambassador Dennis Richardson is the former director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization.

“He has made a major contribution to Australia’s security in this role, especially since September 11, 2001, and will be a highly effective ambassador to the United States,” Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in announcing his appointment in May.

Mr. Howard is on his first visit to Washington since his re-election in October. On Monday, he will meet with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. He holds talks with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday.

Trouble in Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan government is failing to prevent attacks on churches and other acts of religious intolerance, a U.S. religious rights watchdog group said this week.

“The government has condemned the attacks in the past. The commission is concerned that the renewed violence is a sign that the authorities are not taking sufficient steps to halt the burgeoning climate of religious intolerance in Sri Lanka,” said Michael Cromartie, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The attacks are inspired or committed by Buddhist extremists, the commission said in its latest study. More than 70 percent of the country of 20 million people are Buddhist.

The commission cited reports of “Christian churches [that] have been desecrated or burned to the ground and individuals [who] have been physically assaulted by mobs.”

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail

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