Blair’s Africa visit to focus on G8, trade

British Prime Minister Tony Blair wants to use a farewell trip to Africa this week to build momentum for a rich nation summit that will focus on Africa and to push for a world trade deal, a spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Blair flies to Libya, Sierra Leone and South Africa on one of his last trips abroad before stepping down on June 27 after a decade in power, handing over to Finance Minister Gordon Brown.

Aides to the prime minister say the visit comes at a critical time a week before a June 6 to 8 summit of the Group of Eight industrialised countries in Germany and when talks on a long-delayed global free trade deal are coming to a head.

Blair wants to use the Africa trip to ”build momentum for progress” at the Heiligendamm summit, a spokesperson said.

Blair hopes the G8 will reaffirm generous debt and aid commitments it made at a summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005 as well as making new pledges on education and HIV/Aids, she said.

He also hopes the summit will agree steps to combat global warming. Scientists say climate change is already being seen in parts of Africa in rising temperatures and water shortages.

Blair will also rally support for a new global trade agreement, the spokesperson said.

South Africa is one of several African countries invited to the G8 summit and it is also a key player in the trade talks.

The troubled Doha round of trade talks reaches a crunch time in early August. A full blueprint of a final deal needs to be agreed by the WTO’s 150 member countries by then if they are to meet a target of sealing the round by the end of 2007. If they miss the target, the round could be delayed by several years.

African conflicts

The spokesperson said Blair backs efforts to build the African Union’s capacity to intervene in African conflicts. The conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region posed a ”particular challenge”, she said.

The United Nations Security Council endorsed plans last Friday for an African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force of more than 23 000 troops and police for Darfur, where about 200 000 people have been killed and more than two million made homeless since 2003.

Blair has sought to focus international attention on Africa’s problems during his decade in power.

This week’s trip takes him back to Libya which he first visited in 2004, sealing Tripoli’s return to the international fold after it abandoned efforts to acquire banned weapons and agreed to pay damages for a 1988 airliner bombing over Scotland.

In Sierra Leone he may win praise for sending British troops to the country in 2000 to help shore up the United Nations peacekeeping operation there and hasten the end of a civil war marked by atrocities against civilians.

The South African government said Blair would hold talks with President Thabo Mbeki and deliver a major policy speech on Africa during a visit on Thursday and Friday. – Reuters

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Adrian Croft
Adrian Croft works from London, England. Reuters sub-editor in London. Previously Reuters European Defence Editor in Brussels and before that reported from UK, Spain, U.S., Latin America, South Africa. Adrian Croft has over 929 followers on Twitter.

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