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Obama courts Africa's business during visit

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania -- President Barack Obama courted African business leaders Monday and announced new trade initiatives to open up East Africa's markets to American businesses as he sought to counter the rise of Chinese economic influence in the growing continent.

The United States, he declared, wants to "step up our game" in a region that is home to six of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies.

The president was welcomed in Tanzania by the largest crowds of his weeklong trip to the continent, where his family ties run deep. Thousands of people lined the streets as his motorcade sped through this city on the shores of the Indian Ocean. The oceanfront road leading to the residence of President Jakaya Kikwete had been permanently changed to "Barack Obama Drive" in honor of the visit.

While the United States has long been a leader in foreign aid to Africa, China has surpassed America as sub-Saharan Africa's largest trading partner. Countries like India, Turkey and Brazil also are increasing their presence on the continent.

"I see Africa as the world's next major economic success story," Obama told U.S. and African business leaders yesterday.

In earlier stops in Senegal and South Africa, the president also challenged African leaders to pick their international partners carefully, saying they should push back against countries that bring in their own workers or mine Africa's natural resources but handle the production outside the continent -- all criticisms that have been levied against China.

Seeking to draw a contrast with Beijing, Obama said his administration's goal was "for Africa to build Africa for Africans," and for the United States to be a partner in that process.

During his meetings in Tanzania, Obama announced a new venture, dubbed "Trade Africa," to increase the flow of goods between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa.

The president's two-day visit to Tanzania marks the final leg of his weeklong visit to Africa, along with wife Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha.

Obama will close his Africa trip today with a rare meeting on foreign soil between two American presidents. George W. Bush is in Dar es Salaam for a conference on African women organized by his institute and hosted by wife Laura Bush. The presidents will attend a wreath-laying ceremony for the victims of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombing in Tanzania.

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