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Germany

Terror Threat Against German President in Africa

German President Rau canceled a state visit to the east African country of Djibouti after an assassination threat by Islamic terrorists. Djibouti says the move will hurt its image and economy.

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Rau flew home after a visit to Tanzania.

In a statement, Rau said that he didn't want to let terrorists dictate his travel plans, but added that he'd been convinced that sticking to his program would have endangered many others as well.

Horn von Afrika Fregatte Lübeck wird gegen die Augsburg getauscht

Crew members of the German frigate Luebeck pass in a speedboat the German frigates Luebeck, left, and Augsburg in the harbour of Djibouti city in Djibouti on Friday, Feb 20, 2004. The frigate Augsburg is deployed to the ' Horn of Africa' as part of the anti-terror operation Enduring Freedom. The Augsburg replaces the Luebeck which operated in the area since October 2003.

The German president was due to meet with about 1,000 German soldiers stationed in Djibouti and on navy ships monitoring the Gulf of Aden as part of the U.S.-led anti-terror programme "Operation Enduring Freeedom." Their commitment, Rau said after cancelling his trip, had become all the more important in the face of terrorist threats.

Warnings from German intelligence services in Djibouti that a leading representative of a western state should be hit had provoked the decision. On Wednesday, German Interior Minister Otto Schily told public television that officials had taken the warnings very seriously. He added that the terror threat should be considered regional. "But we have to be prepared that such warnings will also spread to Europe," Schily said. "We have to take this seriously."

The president's office said intelligence showed there was considerable and concrete personal risk to the Rau.

Djibouti upset over change of plans

However Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh said the canceling of the German president's visit would hurt the small African country's reputation. "We're not at potential risk any more than other countries," Guelleh told Reuters. "It's not good. We live with the situation but it creates a problem for insurance, foreign investment, tourism," he added.

One of Africa's poorest states, Djibouti relies on a strategic port for income. Earlier, Djibouti's Communications minister insisted his country was stable, and that he was not aware of any plot against Rau. A spokesman for a U.S.-led anti-terror tasks also said he was surprised by the German statement.

Western countries suspect that the al Qaeda network uses the poor and politically unstable African nation as well as other African countries as fertile recruiting and training grounds.

Several security threats during visit

Rau in Tansania, Pius Msekwa

German President Johannes Rau, right, is welcomed by the Speaker of the Tanzanian National Parliament, Pius Msekwa, left, at Royal Palm Hotel in Dar-es-Salaam on Tuesday.

Already on Sunday, when arriving in Arusha, Tanzania, German security services had advised Rau to move from a hotel in the center to a lodge on the outskirts of the city out of concerns for his security. Tanzanian authorities had issued an unspecific terror warning

And only hours before Rau visited the island of Zanzibar on Monday, a bomb attack had hit the home of the local Minister for Transport and a hand grenade exploded in a restaurant. But apparently both incidents were not connected to his visit.

Together with his wife, the German President had been on a nine-day state visit to Africa during which he visited Nigeria and Tanzania - the latter a former German colony until World War I.

His planned three-nation African tour, which Rau had intended to wrap up in the tiny country in the Horn of Africa on Wednesday, was his final major trip abroad before his term in office ends at the end of June.

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