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Liberia's president hopes to return

Taylor says he could function as 'elder statesman'

Liberian President Charles Taylor:
Liberian President Charles Taylor: "When you consider the sum total of the negative attitude toward my government, it makes a lot of sense for me to exit the scene if Liberia is to live."

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MONROVIA, Liberia (CNN) -- Liberian President Charles Taylor told CNN on Tuesday he plans to remain involved with Liberia even after he gives up power and leaves the country.

"I see myself as contributing significantly to what happens hereafter," Taylor said. "One would want me, former head of state of Liberia, to participate in a smooth landing of the entire transitional process. So I hope that I can help in whatever way that I can."

Taylor said he hopes to return to Liberia down the road as an "elder statesman."

President Bush called on Taylor last week to step down and leave the country, saying progress could not be made until he is gone.

Taylor insisted his decision to step down predated Bush's call, though it wasn't until Sunday that he accepted an offer of asylum from Nigeria.

"I am voluntarily stepping down," he told CNN. "Bush's call has been a reiteration of what I said. ... I guess it is proper for him to urge me to carry out that promise."

Taylor said he had decided to "make the ultimate sacrifice, and step aside and give peace a chance," because his government was unable to "adequately defend itself."

In 1989, Taylor led a revolt against Liberian dictator Samuel Doe that triggered seven years of civil war during which an estimated 200,000 people died, according to the U.S. government.

Taylor's faction emerged from the fighting as the dominant force, and after a mediated peace settlement in 1996, he won a special election in 1997 that opponents said was marred by corruption and intimidation.

Fighting resumed in 2000 when Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy revolted against Taylor. Since then, there has been no end to the violence.

The economy is in disarray and the infrastructure is in ruins. Thousands have died and illness runs rampant. Much of the population of 3.3 million is homeless and starving.

The rebel group and its allies hold 60 percent of the country. A cease-fire agreement reached June 17 did not stop the fighting initially but has held in recent days.

A U.N.-backed court indicted Taylor on war crimes charges in June, accusing him of arming and training rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone in exchange for diamonds. Taylor denies the charges.

A 10-year civil war in Sierra Leone killed 50,000 people, according to the U.S. government, and the United Nations and humanitarian groups say Taylor-backed rebel fighters throughout the region killed and tortured civilians and abducted people, including children, forcing them to fight.

Taylor: 'I want to be the sacrificial lamb'

"When you consider the sum total of the negative attitude toward my government, it makes a lot of sense for me to exit the scene if Liberia is to live," Taylor said Tuesday.

"As long as this stigma exists, that Charles Taylor is supposed to be Attila the Hun, nothing is going to come here. And now it's not just about me, it's about this country living."

He added, "I want to be the sacrificial lamb."

The terms of Nigeria's asylum offer were not disclosed, and it was unclear whether the country will shield him from the war crimes tribunal.

Taylor has described the Nigerian offer as a "soft landing" and told CNN Tuesday "it's possible that any other country in Africa will say, 'Mr. President, come rest, and relax, and watch things.'"

A special prosecutor with the special court in Sierra Leone said offering Taylor asylum from the charges would violate international law.

The United States is tight-lipped on whether Taylor should escape prosecution. One senior U.S. official told CNN the issue "is really on the back burner."

Taylor said African leaders are working hard to resolve the country's conflict. He reiterated his support for the United States to send peacekeeping troops to his country, which was settled in 1822 by emancipated American slaves.

If the United States does not "constructively engage in the process in Liberia right now of helping us to build this country and reconstruct the whole process, America should have no excuse if she's criticized for not being interested in Africa. Because it has to start in Liberia as an old ally," Taylor said.

Taylor referred to programs for Africa that Bush is pushing during his five-nation visit this week -- ranging from combating the spread of AIDS to increasing trade to fighting hunger in the continent.

"If America does not work in Liberia, I don't think any African country is going to take her seriously about all of the programs they're talking about," Taylor said.

CNN correspondent Brent Sadler contributed to this report.

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