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German Chancellor in Ethiopia for First Leg of Africa Visit


German Chancellor Angela Merkel has arrived in Ethiopia for the first leg of an Africa visit in which she will focus on strengthening business ties, addressing the AIDS pandemic and touring development projects. As Nick Wadhams reports from Nairobi, her visit also raises tough questions about Germany's friendship with governments such as Ethiopia's, that have questionable human rights records.

Chancellor Merkel, who is on her first visit to sub-Saharan Africa, met with Ethiopia's prime minister and president in the morning and was to inspect a German-funded project meant to help female street children in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

She also planned to deliver a speech before the African Union, which has its headquarters in Addis. The speech comes just a few days after 10 AU peacekeepers were killed in an attack on their base in Sudan's troubled Darfur region. Ms. Merkel was expected to discuss the tragedy with AU leaders

Germany is looking to follow the lead of China, which has embarked on a massive program to invest more heavily in Africa.

The first counselor at Germany's embassy in Ethiopia, Karsten Hoelsdher, says Ms. Merkel's visit to Ethiopia, South Africa and Liberia comes at a crucial time for Germany, now that it holds the rotating presidency of the Group of Eight industrialized nations.

"In very general terms, there are close relations," said Hoelsdher. "At the moment, we are having the G-Eight presidency, and part of the G-Eight activities is a special focus on Africa and, therefore, we are very much interested in the whole of Africa and Ethiopia is a very important country in that context."

Ms. Merkel is also expected to help lay the groundwork for a summit between African Union and European Union leaders set for December in Portugal. Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is expected to be there, despite an E.U. travel ban.

Coinciding with the chancellor's visit, a leading German bank will open a branch office in Ethiopia.

Ms. Merkel's bid to strengthen Germany's ties with some African nations - particularly Ethiopia - is raising some tough questions. The government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been accused of human rights abuses, especially in its eastern Ogaden region.

Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure that pressures Ethiopia's leaders to improve their democracy and human rights record or else face travel restrictions and cuts in security assistance.

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