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Snapshot of issues surrounding Clinton's Nigeria visit
ABUJA, Nigeria (Reuters) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton kicks off his second trip to Africa on Saturday with a high-profile visit to Nigeria, which he pointedly avoided in 1998 when dictator Sani Abacha was in power.
Following are the main issues surrounding his two-day trip to the West African oil producer that is Africa's most populous nation.
Clinton says that he wants to highlight and support Nigeria's democratic experiment, which resulted in the 1999 election of civilian President Olusegun Obasanjo after 15 years of military rule. "If democracy takes root in Nigeria it will lift up an entire region," he says. Much of the world treated Nigeria as a pariah under Abacha.
With world oil prices topping $30 a barrel, Clinton wants the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to boost output to bring the price down to the low to mid-$20s. "Oil producers should try to work out a medium," says Obasanjo. OPEC member Nigeria has influence within the cartel but its huge development needs raise questions over whether it has the real political will to champion lower prices.
Nigeria wants U.S. support for efforts to ease its $28 billion foreign debt. Information Minister Jerry Gana says talks between Clinton and Obasanjo will "focus on such issues as debt relief or cancellation."
Nigeria has played a pivotal role in peacekeeping in Africa, particularly in Sierra Leone and Liberia. In April, the United States promised $10 million to bolster Nigeria's armed forces for regional peacekeeping. Nigerian military officials criticize the follow-up as "half-hearted."
Nigeria's business community is looking to the visit to promote investment in their country, a potential market of more than 110 million people. "This is the time for them to come in," says Rufus Giwa, president of the Manufacturers' Association of Nigeria.
Clinton plans to announce additional support for Nigeria, particularly in the areas of primary education and the fight against infectious diseases. His National Security Adviser Sandy Berger says U.S. assistance programs to Nigeria have risen from $7 million to $108 million over the past two years.
Nigeria has been a traditional hub for drug smuggling, particularly under military dictator Sani Abacha. Washington says that Obasanjo's government is starting to clean up Nigeria's image in this area. "We have been extremely impressed by the progress of Nigeria thus far," says Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice.
Nigeria resumed direct air links to the United States on August 15, reopening the lucrative Lagos-New York route after a six-year break. The United States had banned direct links citing security problems at Lagos airport.
Nigeria says the level of visa rejections experienced by its citizens wanting to travel to the United States is unreasonable. "Most Nigerians on legitimate missions abroad have been unduly harassed and intimidated at the embassy," Junior Foreign Minister Chief Dubem Onyia told Nigerian newspaper reporters.
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