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Liberian president meets Harper

[PoliticsWatch updated 11:15 a.m. March 29, 2007]

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf speaks to reporters in Gatineau Wednesday. 

OTTAWA  — She's called the "Iron Lady" of Africa and is the first elected female African head of state, but Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf spent most of Wednesday in the national capital region unsure if she would meet Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 

The PM finally met with the president late in the afternoon after opposition MPs accused the government of a diplomatic snub in question period. 

Johnson Sirleaf was in town to speak at the Canada 20/20 Public Policy Conference at a hotel adjacent to the casino in Gatineau, Quebec.  

The visit was unusual for a foreign leader, who are usually greeted with the protocols of an official visit such as flags of the guest nation flying along streets in Ottawa. 

Earlier on Wednesday, the Prime Minister's Office told PoliticsWatch that Harper did not meet with Johnson Sirleaf because "there was no request from the Liberian government."

When asked if she tried to get a meeting with the prime minister the president only said, "I left that to protocol."

"I think the prime minister would not like to meet me until he's made Liberia a priority country," she said. " Let's give him that opportunity." 

But later in question period, the prime minister said he "would be delighted to have a meeting" with Johnson Sirleaf. Harper said he hadn't heard that she would be in town until Tuesday. 

Johnson Sirleaf also met with Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and was introduced at the conference by International Cooperation Minister Josee Verner.   

The president was invited to speak at the conference by Liberal MP Belinda Stronach after the two met at a conference in Washington recently. 

Stronach ran against Harper for the leadership of the Conservative party in 2004 and left the Tory caucus a little more than a year later citing her problems with Harper's leadership style.  

"I was responding to this invitation mainly to Belinda and to thank her for all that's she's done in Africa and Liberia and to speak at the 2020 conference," the Liberian president explained.

After her speech, Johnson Sirleaf was joined on stage by Stronach and comedian Rick Mercer to thank them for a recent purchase of 33,000 anti-malarial bed nets for Liberia. The donation was made through Spread the Net, an organization the two are involved in. 

The nets are to help prevent the spread of malaria, which is the No. 1 killer of children in Liberia. 

Liberia, like other African countries, also faces an AIDS crisis. 

When asked if Liberia planned to take advantage of a Canadian program designed to steer cheaper pandemic drugs to developing nations like Liberia, both the president and Nigel Fisher, president of UNICEF Canada, seemed unaware of the program. 

"I just know that the program is still in formation so I don't think Liberia has benefited from that," Fisher said. 

In fact, Canada's Access to Medicines Regime has been law for nearly three years. The program allows generic drug companies in Canada to sell drugs currently under patent protection to developing nations. 

Last month, Health Minister Tony Clement said that while on a recent trip to Africa health ministers in Tanzania and Kenya that he met with were also unaware of the program and they didn't think it would be helpful because they purchased drugs at a cheaper price from India and China. 

: Related Links

> Canadian generic drug prices too high to help Africa- Clement

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