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US seeks African entry as China invests lavishly

The US secretary of state is on a seven nation tour of Africa, where she has called for a greater emphasis on democracy. The US and China, the world's largest economies, are competing for African investment partners.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has begun her 11-day tour of Africa by emphasizing democracy, a rhetorical jab aimed at growing Chinese influence on the resource rich continent.

Clinton began her seven nation Africa tour in Senegal on Wednesday, where she called on the continent's leaders to "accept accountability, treat their people with dignity, respect their rights, and deliver economic opportunity."

The US secretary of state's trip comes one month after Chinese President Hu Jintao offered $20 (16.3 billion euros) in loans over the next three years to African nations. The money is aimed at strengthening Africa's infrastructure, manufacturing and small businesses.

China surpassed the US to become the African continent's largest trading partner in 2009. Beijing has emphasized a hands-off approach to human rights, with Hu offering what he called "genuine support to African countries' independent path to development."

During her trip to Senegal, Clinton took a veiled shot at Beijing while presenting Washington's supposed model for working with African nations.

"America will stand up for democracy and universal human rights even when it might be easier or more profitable to look the other way, to keep resources flowing," Clinton said. "Not every partner makes that choice, but we do and we will."

Growing security presence

Clinton will visit Uganda on Thursday, a key ally in Washington's drive to hunt down Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and contain the Islamist al-Shabab militia in Somalia. Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court for recruiting child soldiers while al-Shabab has alleged ties to al-Qaeda.

Later in the week, the secretary of state is also scheduled to visit newly independent South Sudan, which nearly went to war in the spring with neighboring Sudan over unresolved disputes relating to borders and oil.

Washington has taken a growing security interest in Africa, as local Islamist groups have exploited instability in Libya, Mali, Nigeria, and Somalia to gain momentum.

The rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabab in Somalia and al-Qaeda linked groups in the vast, remote Sahel region has raised concern in western capitals that the continent could become a new sanctuary for international terrorism.

In 2008, the US established an independent military command specializing in Africa for the first time, called AFRICOM.

slk/jm (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)