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S. Africa's Mbeki Visits Italy to Strengthen Ties

South African President Thabo Mbeki began a three-day state visit to Italy aimed at strengthening relations in order to speed economic growth. His first meeting Tuesday was with his Italian counterpart, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

South African President Thabo Mbeki began his three-day visit to Italy with a meeting at the presidential palace with his Italian counterpart, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. After the talks in Mr. Ciampi's private study, the Italian president said his vision is that of Africa growing alongside Europe.

Mr. Ciampi said the meeting was an opportunity to reaffirm Italian and European determination to build a strong and lasting partnership with Africa, to help it reach its targets of development, favor its entry into markets and to jointly manage migratory flows.

The Italian president said Europeans and Africans are together prepared to face the challenges of a global society in which no one can win alone. He said the challenges include the intolerable gap between the industrialized and developing worlds, the fight against hunger and disease, the threat of terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and the indiscriminate exploitation of the planet's resources.

Mr. Ciampi also said South Africa represents the new face of Africa, which strives towards democracy, responsibility integration and regional cooperation. The South African government, he added, is committed in patient mediation efforts in the still existing numerous conflicts and in the strengthening of pan-African institutions.

Mr. Mbeki said this visit marked a further step forward in relations between Italy and South Africa and an opportunity to renew attention to the promotion of economic ties. The South African president is traveling with his wife and a delegation that includes the ministers of foreign affairs and trade and industry.

Mr. Mbeki said it was a special day in his country today.

"Our visit, Mr. President, commences on South Africa's Human Rights Day, a particularly historic day in our country, and as you are aware Mr. President, March 21st 1960 was a watershed day in our history, which was when 69 people were killed in a cold-blooded way by the apartheid police for protesting against the dehumanizing past laws," he said.

Mr. Mbeki's visit follows one by the Italian president to South Africa in March 2002. Mr. Ciampi said frequent contacts between the two countries confirm their friendship. He said all the conditions are in place for significant prospects of collaboration.

Italy is one of South Africa's top 10 trading partners.

Mr. Mbeki is meeting in Rome with businessmen from both countries. He is also expected to hold talks Wednesday with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni.