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South African Opposition Responds to State of the Nation Address

South African president Thabo Mbeki delivered an upbeat State of the Nation address today, vowing to cut crime, unemployment and poverty, and underscoring his government's success in fighting the AIDS pandemic. In his speech to South Africa's parliament, Mr. Mbeki outlined ambitious plans for the next year to boost services to the public and expand employment opportunities. The South African leader also touted his government's response to AIDS, saying its prevention and treatment plan is among the best in the world. On foreign policy, Mr. Mbeki said his government will continue with its quiet diplomacy towards Zimbabwe but also denounced what he called the "unconstitutional charade" in Togo.

South African opposition leader Tony Leon said the president's speech was impressive in its report on economic progress but disappointing in its survey of the government's failures. The whip for the Democratic Alliance, Douglas Gibson, says the government needs to reduce restrictions on small business in order to enhance economic growth. He also says there needs to be some reforms on social “transformation” – or affirmative action – which he says is rewarding cronies of the government but not reaching enough people on the bottom of the economic scale. Mr. Gibson also told English to Africa reporter William Eagle that the president should spend more time solving regional issues in surrounding states such as Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe.