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AU Leaders Open Summit Marking 50 Years of Progress, Turmoil

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Dozens of African leaders met Saturday to mark 50 years since the founding of the African Union, a continent-wide organization that helped liberate Africa from colonialism and which now is trying to stay relevant on a continent regularly troubled by conflict.

Upon opening the summit, attended by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other foreign dignitaries, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the AU’s original pan-Africanist aspirations remain relevant for the continent where many states are still struggling to overcome rampant poverty and violence.

“This historic day marks not only a great leap forward in the pan-Africanist quest for freedom, independence and unity but also the beginning of our collective endeavor for the realizations of Africa’s socio-economic emancipation,” he said.

“The major responsibility of the current and future generations of Africans is to create a continent free from poverty and conflict, and an Africa whose citizens would enjoy middle-income status.”

African leaders have gathered to witness celebrations in Addis Ababa for the 50th jubilee of the continental bloc, its many problems set aside for a day to mark the progress that has been made.

Mass dancing troupes performed musical dramas on Saturday to about 10,000 guests in a big hall in the Ethiopian capital, home to the African Union.

Today’s 54-member AU is the successor of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), established amid the heady days as independence from colonial rule swept the continent in 1963.

In addition to Kerry, African leaders were expected to be joined by Francois Hollande, the French president; and Wang Yang, China’s vice-premier.

Mali is expected to be discussed: it is preparing to receive a U.N. peacekeeping force to support French soldiers fighting formerly al-Qaida-linked rebels in the desert north since January.

The agenda will also likely include Madagascar – in political deadlock since a 2009 coup – and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where U.N.-backed government soldiers are struggling to defeat rebels.

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