Volcano cuts Clinton's Ethiopia trip short

June 13, 2011 at 9:52 PM
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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, June 13 (UPI) -- The eruption of a long-dormant volcano in neighboring Eritrea prompted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to cut short her stay in Ethiopia Monday.

The Nabro volcano came to life for the first time in 150 years about midnight Sunday after a string of earthquakes of up to a magnitude 5.7, sending ash plumes 8 miles high. The ash initially forced the cancellation of flights in Eritrea and Ethiopia with other countries in the region expected to follow suit, The Daily Telegraph reported.

After being warned that Addis Ababa's main airport could be closed soon, Clinton called off a media briefing and headed back to the United States a day earlier than planned, the British newspaper said.

An official traveling with Clinton said there was little time to decide whether to leave or risk being stranded, the Telegraph said.

"If the plane leaves without us, it's unclear when it or another plane could come get us because the ash cloud is moving towards Addis and it could cover the city for an indeterminate length of time," he said as the delegation departed. "Therefore [what we have decided] to do, which the air force is recommending, is to leave."

Before she left, however, Clinton told the African Union the days of strongman dictators were coming to an end.

In her blunt remarks in Addis Ababa, Clinton said despotic regimes that failed to make democratic reforms were "no longer acceptable" and would soon find themselves on "the wrong side of history."

Clinton said the unrest in North Africa that has become known as the "Arab Spring" was influencing restive populations to the south and presenting governments with a challenge and an opportunity to institute needed change.

"Rise to this historic occasion; show leadership by embracing a true path that honors your people's aspirations," Clinton said. "Because, if you do not … you are on the wrong side of history, and time will prove that."

The New York Times reported Clinton did not single out any specific nations for criticism in her remarks, which were part of her five-day visit to the continent.

Clinton also urged increased trade between the United States and Africa and continued assistance in food and healthcare.

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