A Scary Moment On A Warm Day

"Back up! Back up!" President Clinton shouted as Ghanaians pressed forward.

Concerned that people in front would be crushed as the crowd surged toward him, Clinton had quickly dropped his enthusiastic demeanor and begun yelling. Guards along the barricades struggled to keep the people back.

It was a scary moment toward the end of an event that could hardly have been warmer, either in spirit or temperature.

After addressing hundreds of thousands of people on a sweltering day, Clinton was speaking only in superlatives.

"I have traveled all over the world on behalf of the people of the United States and I think I can say two things without fear of being wrong," the president said. "The welcome I received in Independence Square today is the largest welcome I have ever received anywhere. And all day long, this is clearly the warmest welcome I have ever received. I am now on my second suit.

"At this rate, when I get off the airplane in Botswana (on Sunday), I'll be in my swimming trunks. And you will say the president has taken African informality too far,"
the president said.

The Gahanian government estimated the crowd at more than 500,000.

Despite the heat and the lack of water for the crowd, Ghana's president, Jerry Rawlings, stuck to his prepared speech and read every word of it. And when he finished, he started on an extemporaneous speech that went on for another 20 minutes, focusing on a Ghanaian nurse and a distinguished Arkansas family.

"They took her, a Ghanaian nurse, they took her in as a member of the family, believe it or not," Rawlings said. The nurse was so impressed with the couple that she thought that they might someday become the president and first lady of the United States.

Rawlings said the woman went on to become "almost the headmistress of the house, and saying this has to be this way and this has to be this way." And then the couple, the Clintons, went on to the White House.

White House officials were puzzled by the remark, but upon checking learned that a Ghanaian midwife had taken part in the birth of Chelsea Clinton. Press secretary Mike McCurry said that Mrs. Clinton saw the woman from time to time during medical checkups for her daughter.

Clinton was accompanied to Africa by many black leaders from Congress and his administration. The entourage included Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, as well as Jesse Jackson, the president's special envoy to Africa. Even Clinton's secretary Betty Currie, who hardly ever travels, joined him here.

"I don't think you can possibly imagine what this day means to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, to the African-American members of my Cabinet and those who hold senior positions in the White House," the president said.

"It wasn't so very long ago in the whole sweep of human history that their ancestors were yanked rom the shores of Western Africa as slaves.

"Now they come back home to Africa and Ghana as leaders of America, a country that hopes to be a better model than we once were, for the proposition that all men and women are free and equal," Mr. Clinton said.

Ghanaian authorities spent the last few weeks cleaning up President Clinton's motorcade route, thrilling some residents who said they got a free paint job.

By Terence Hunt
©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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