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Rio De Janeiro • Immersing himself in Brazil's poverty and pride, President Barack Obama on Sunday held up the South American nation as a model of democratic change in a time of uprisings and crackdowns across the Arab world and yet another war front for the United States.
From Rio's glamorous beaches to a notorious slum to an elegant theater, Obama glimpsed the city's cultural extremes and offered the kind of personal engagement that can pay political dividends for years. Less than one day after announcing U.S. military strikes against Libya's government, Obama made time to kick a soccer ball around with kids in a shantytown.
The competing stories of Obama's itinerary a war front in Africa, an economic commitment to South America divided his time in incongruous ways. By morning, he spoke with his security team about the international assault against Moammar Gadhafi's defenses; by night, he was to stand atop a mountain and admire Rio's world famous statue of Jesus.
It was all summed up by one image: Obama, adeptly juggling a soccer ball as his aides helped him juggle his agenda.
In a speech, Obama celebrated Brazil as a place that has shifted from dictatorship to democracy, moving millions into its middle class and embracing human rights. He underlined that point as unrest sweeps the Middle East and north Africa.
"As two nations who have struggled over many generations to perfect our own democracies, the United States and Brazil know that the future of the Arab world will be determined by its people," Obama told a gathering inside an ornate hall here.
His speech and trip to this region have been overshadowed by the onset of war in Libya. Obama has tried to find a balance of showing command of the war strategy without altering his diplomatic mission or offending his hosts in Latin America.
And on Sunday, he was determined to be with his family, get among the people and feel the culture.
Obama and his family visited the City of God shantytown that gained fame through a movie of the same name. The slum is undergoing a transformation as Rio works to improve the plight of its poorest people and clean up its reputation ahead of hosting the 2016 summer Olympics.
Obama, his wife Michelle and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, watched young children pound on drums and perform a dazzling acrobatic dance. And then all the Obamas took turns at soccer, led by the president.