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Africa

German foreign minister on routine Africa tour as Mali hostage-taking unfolds

A tour of Africa by Germany's foreign minister - with a trade and development agenda - has been overshadowed by an armed attack on a luxury hotel popular with Westerners in Mali at the other end of the continent.

The visit by German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier to the southern African nation of Zambia was punctuated on Friday (20.11.2015) by events in West Africa, where special forces were freeing hostages from the Radisson Blu hotel in the Malian capital Bamako. Gunmen stormed the hotel earlier in the day taking 130 guests and 30 hotel employees hostage.

Speaking in the Zambian capital Lusaka, Steinmeier told the German radio station Deutschlandfunk that two Germans who were in the hotel in Bamako "have left it." It was not immediately known if there were any other German nationals on the premises.

German troops in Mali

Security in Mali is one of Germany's priorities. It has 200 troops in the south of the country as part of the European Union mission EUTM, which is helping to train the Malian army. Berlin has a much smaller number - ten troops - in the normally more restless north of Mali, where they are deployed with the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). In October, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen raised the possibility of expanding Berlin's contribution. The German minister repeated this offer of assistance when France asked for more help from its EU partners in the wake of the Paris attacks.

Zambia's presidential elections: Edgar Lungu 19.01.2015

Zambian President Edgar Lungu, seen here at an election rally in January: 'We see how we can do business together'

Steinmeier's visit to Zambia comes as the southern African nation grapples with the impact of the economic slowdown in China and the reduction in its demand for copper. Zambia is one of the world's largest copper producers.

Joint ventures or direct investment

Zambia's currency, the kwacha, has lost more than half of its value against the dollar this year. A weak currency stokes inflation. So Zambia has raised its benchmark interest rate to 15.5 percent, which is likely to squeeze the economy just as it is weakening.

Speaking after talks with Steinmeier and the business delegation which is accompanying him, Zambian President Edgar Lungu told his German guests his country would see "how we can do business together by way of joint ventures or direct investment."

Leonard Hikaumba, a former president of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), said Zambia had received a lot of technical support from Germany in the past which had helped it to stabilize its economy. "As a labor movement, we have benefited greatly," he said.

Steinmeier arrived in Zambia from Mozambique, where he said he hoped very much that that country would be able to maintain its stability. Over the last few months there have been repeated clashes between the Mozambican security forces and members of Renamo, the rebel movement during the 1977-1992 civil war and now the country's main opposition party.

Close Cold War ties with East Germany

Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony, is hoping for faster economic growth following the recent discovery of gas reserves. The majority of the country's 27 million inhabitants live in poverty.

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Mozambique

Visting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (center) urged Mozambique to 'maintain stability'

During the Cold War, Mozambique maintained close relations with communist East Germany and ties with reunited Germany have remained cordial. Trade between the two countries, however, remains modest, totaling just 214 million euros ($229 million).

Steinmier said political stability in Mozambique was "in the interests of the many people who were hoping for sustained economic growth" and that the country "still had many opportunities for development."

Mozambican Foreign Minister Oldemiro Baloi from the ruling Frelimo party expressed a keen interest in German investment in his country.

Steinmeier is due to visit Uganda and Tanzania before returning to Berlin on Monday.

Kathy Sikombe in Lusaka contributed to this report.

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