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Obama to give keynote address to African Union

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US president Barack Obama/FILE

US president Barack Obama/FILE

ETHIOPIA, Jul 28 – Barack Obama will be the first-ever US president to address the African Union on Tuesday, in the culmination of a short tour of the region that has seen him focus on security and human rights.

After visiting Kenya, the country of his father’s birth, Obama is in the Ethiopian capital, the seat of the pan-African body, where he has already praised the country as a key partner in the war against Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shabaab militants in Somalia.

“Part of the reasons we’ve seen this shrinkage of Shabaab in East Africa is that we’ve had our regional teams,” Obama said, referring to African Union and Somali government troops.

“We don’t need to send our own Marines in to do the fighting: the Ethiopians are tough fighters,” Obama said, adding: “We’ve got more work to do. We have to now keep the pressure on.”

After talks on Monday with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, whose ruling party won 100 percent of seats in parliament two months ago, Obama gave the blunt message that Ethiopia — while credited with strong economic growth — needed to improve basic rights.

Activists have complained that Obama’s visit to Addis Ababa could add credibility to a government they accuse of suppressing democratic rights — including the jailing of journalists and critics — with anti-terror legislation.

Obama addressed those concerns, saying “there is still more work to do”.

“There are certain principles we think have to be upheld,” Obama added.

“Nobody questions our need to engage with large countries where we may have differences on these issues. We don’t advance or improve these issues by staying away,” he said.

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