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31.05.2007 General News

Blair On African Tour To Bid Farewell

British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday began a three-nation trip to Africa, his last journey to a continent he has vigorously championed during a decade in office.

The 54-year-old premier headed first for Libya, before stops in Sierra Leone and South Africa, a Downing Street spokeswoman said, although she did not disclose exact dates or his full itinerary for security reasons.

As part of the week-long tour, the Prime Minister is likely to use the trip to try to focus on new agreements on climate change and commitments on Africa.

The crisis in Sudan's Darfur region, just to the south of Libya, threatened to cloud his agenda, as the United States announced new sanctions against the Khartoum government.

Mr Blair will also try to highlight what he thinks have been foreign policy successes during his time in office.

He will meet Libyan leader Colonel al-Qathafi, who Britain and the US persuaded to give up ambitions on nuclear weapons in 2003. Afterwards Mr Blair will travel to Sierra Leone, where he sent British troops to restore order in the early days of his premiership. From there he will head to South Africa.

The South African government has said Mr Blair will hold talks with President Thabo Mbeki and deliver a major policy speech on Africa during his stay in the country.

According to reports with a G-8 summit approaching, Mr Blair wants to remind the world's richest industrialised nations that they have commitments on Africa which they must live up to.

Downing Street said that "all three countries he will visit illustrate, in different ways, the benefits of this Government's active, values-driven foreign policy engagement with Africa".

Blair announced his resignation on May 10 but his successor, Finance Minister Gordon Brown, only formally takes over on June 27.

After visits to the United States and France this month, and with the G8 summit in Germany and European Union leaders meeting in Brussels in the offing, opponents have criticised Blair for embarking on a lengthy "farewell tour".

Yet Downing Street was keen to stress that far from a valedictory farewell, Blair's visit to Africa comes at a "critical juncture", as the G8 prepares for a summit next week dominated by climate change and poverty reduction.

On Africa, Blair wants the world's richest countries to make good on their 2005 pledges to grant substantial debt relief and double aid to the continent by 2010 as well as new, "specific" commitments on education and HIV programmes.

Source — AFP/BBC