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Associated PressLiberian President Charles Taylor arrives to speak to church leaders in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, Friday.

Associated Press

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) - The leader of Nigeria is coming this weekend to personally offer embattled President Charles Talyor temporary asylum as a step toward ending Liberia's civil war, an official said.

With international pressure mounting on Taylor to go, Nigerian President Olesugun Obasango will meet with him today at Monrovia's airport, the senior Liberian official said on condition of anonymity.

The visit would cap several days of talks between officials in Nigeria - West Africa's military and diplomatic heavyweight - and Liberia over an asylum offer. The White House called on Taylor several times in the past week to step down.

Taylor, wanted on war crimes charges and cornered by rebels in his final redoubt, Monrovia, says he will leave but only after an international peacekeeping force deploys in Liberia. He has broken promises in the past to step down.

Obasanjo's administration said earlier that it would be willing to harbor Taylor until he travels to a third country for permanent exile.

Obasanjo's spokeswoman, Remi Oyo, said on Saturday that Nigeria and Liberia are continuing to discuss Taylor's asylum. While she said she wasn't aware of any scheduled meeting between the two leaders, "anything can develop in the next couple of days," she said. "We're all on standby."

On Friday, the 15-country Economic Community of West African States said it would put up 3,000 troops for an intervention force to stabilize the Liberia.

Liberians, Taylor, and leaders from many countries have called for the United States to send troops to lead the force in Liberia, founded in the 19th century by freed American slaves.

In Washington, the Bush administration said Friday that an advance team would travel to Africa to gather facts on how the United States might contribute to the force, while warning that a decision won't necessarily come before Bush leaves on Monday for a five-nation African tour. Bush isn't scheduled to visit Liberia.

The U.S. military's European Command headquarters is organizing an initial assessment team of 10-15 people to deploy to the Liberian capital, said Lt. Cmdr. Rick Haupt, a EUCOM spokesman on Saturday. He declined to elaborate.

Bush says he will not accept any outcome that allows Taylor to remain in power in his embattled country.

Bush said in a television interview that information from separate meetings between U.S. officials and the Economic Community of West African States also would be crucial to his decision.

"That's very important information for me, the decision-maker on this issue, to understand what the recommendations might be," Bush said in an interview with the Voice of America, conducted Thursday and aired Saturday.

In Monrovia, where hundreds died during two rebel pushes into the city last month, street traders, shop owners and many among the 97,000 refugees swelling the city glued their ears to transistor radios on Saturday in hopes of a Bush pronouncement on their plight.

Some citizens expressed concern that an ill-planned departure by Taylor would leave his fighters - often drunken and already prone to attacking civilians - completely unchecked.

"The solution, I think, is that Taylor should stay here after his resignation to help disarm his forces," said Tetah Morris, 34.

In Ghana, peace talks among Liberia's warring parties and political groupings continued on Saturday. Negotiators are hammering out details for an eventual transitional government, which must exclude Taylor, according to an oft-violated June 17 cease-fire deal.

While Taylor was in Ghana to open the talks on June 4, a U.N.-backed war crimes court in neighboring Sierra Leone indicted him for gun trafficking and supporting Sierra Leone rebels during their vicious 10-year terror campaign, when atrocities included hacking off victims' limbs. Taylor cut short his Ghana visit and flew home an international fugitive.

Taylor started Liberia's bloodshed by launching a 1989-1996 civil war and was elected president in 1997. Since Liberia's main rebel movement took up arms against him in 1999, one-third of this country's 3 million people have been forced from their homes by fighting.

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