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Turmoil in Africa Alters Focus Of Bush’s 5-Nation Tour

On the eve of a planned trip to Africa, President Bush thrust himself into the role of peacemaker on Thursday, as his plans to promote American efforts against poverty and disease gave way to a more pressing imperative: addressing the violence and turmoil on the continent.

Bush injected his administration directly into the political crisis in Kenya, calling for a “full return to democracy” and announcing that he would send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice there to “deliver a message directly to Kenya’s leaders.” Rice will not have far to go; she and the president will be right next door, in Tanzania.

The six-day, five-country Africa tour would be one of a string of foreign trips, to Eastern Europe, Israel, Japan and China, that will keep Bush busy overseas in the twilight of his administration, as his influence over domestic policy wanes and attention at home turns increasingly to the campaign to elect his successor.

Bush is scheduled to leave for Africa Friday night. The trip will take him to Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia — all countries that have benefited from American foreign aid.

Bush’s presence is intended to celebrate each country’s political and economic progress, while sending a not-so-subtle reminder of the role the United States has played.

But with Kenya racked by violence over a disputed election, unrest in Chad and a worsening crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan, it had become increasingly clear that Bush could not take what analysts have dubbed “a victory lap” in Africa while steering clear of troubles on the continent — especially in Kenya, where more than 1,000 have died in the recent violence.

House Fails to Renew Surveillance Bill

The House broke for a week’s recess Thursday without renewing terrorist surveillance authority demanded by President Bush, leading him to warn of risky intelligence gaps while Democrats accused him of reckless fearmongering.

The refusal of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to schedule a vote on a surveillance measure approved by the Senate on Tuesday touched off an intense partisan conflict over the national security questions that have colored federal elections since 2002 and are likely to play a significant role again in November.

Trying to put pressure on Democrats, Bush offered to delay a trip to Africa to resolve the dispute and warned that failure to extend the expanded power under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which expires Saturday, could hamper efforts to track terrorists.

“Our intelligence professionals are working day and night to keep us safe, and they’re waiting to see whether Congress will give them the tools they need to succeed or tie their hands by failing to act,” Bush said.

But Pelosi and House Democrats said that it was Bush and congressional Republicans who were at fault because they had resisted temporarily extending the bill to allow disagreements to be worked out. She said Democrats would not be bullied into approving a measure they consider flawed.

Near End of 8-Year Presidency, Putin Speaks of Future

President Vladimir V. Putin, in the final weeks of an eight-year administration that secured his place as the country’s most popular politician, said Thursday that he intended to wield substantial and long-running power in the Kremlin after leaving office next month and becoming Russia’s prime minister.

In a confident and forceful public performance in which he described many of Russia’s continuing policy choices, Putin spoke bitingly of his international critics and defied intensive criticism from Washington by refusing to back down from threats to aim strategic missiles at the Czech Republic, Poland and Ukraine.

He said the Kremlin had been forced to assume a reinvigorated nuclear defense by NATOs courting of Ukraine and by the United States’ development of a missile defense system for deployment in Europe.

“We will have to retarget our missiles on the objects that we think threaten our national security,” he said. “I have to speak about this directly and honestly, so that there would be no attempts to shift the responsibility for such developments on those who should not be blamed.”

Large Union Backs Obama; Another Likely to Follow

Giving Sen. Barack Obama new momentum, one of the nation’s largest labor unions, the United Food and Commercial Workers, endorsed him on Thursday. Another giant, the Service Employees International Union, was on the brink of backing him.

The endorsement of the service employees, which with 1.9 million members is seen as the nation’s most politically potent union, would be considered a special boon. Members of the service employees’ board were casting votes by e-mail and fax on Thursday night, and two top union leaders said an Obama endorsement was likely.

The two unions did not make endorsements until now largely because they were so torn among Obama, John Edwards and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. But with Edwards out and Obama winning eight straight contests, many of the top leaders of the unions decided it was time to back him.

“Both candidates are good on worker issues, but there is something about Sen. Obama that has mobilized our leadership and mobilized our membership,” said Joseph Hansen, president of the food and commercial workers, which represents 1.1 million workers in the United States. “Forty percent of our members are less than 30 years old, and a lot of them like Obama.”