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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 01:20 GMT
Blair back to world stage
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair is accused of ignoring domestic agenda
Nick Assinder

Tony Blair is facing fresh attacks over his globetrotting as he leaves Britain for a whistle stop tour of west Africa.

His latest trip comes as union fury is growing over his "wreckers" speech, rail strikes are intensifying and opposition leader Iain Duncan Smith is accusing him of media grandstanding.

The visit is expected to take in four west African states where the prime minister will underline his commitment to aid, relieving debt and ending violence.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith
Iain Duncan Smith will step up attack
Britain currently has peacekeeping troops in Sierra Leone but the prime minister is expected to resist any calls for further commitments in other countries facing internal strife.

He is certain to drive home his message of global interdependence and the need for an EU-style partnership amongst African countries to aid stability and boost foreign investment.

New world order

The trip follows his party conference speech in the immediate aftermath of the 11 September atrocity last year.

The prime minister used it to map out his hopes for a new world order which would see all nations coming together to tackle issues like poverty, terrorism and Aids.

But he is certain to face renewed attacks from the opposition leader for again being out of the country at a crucial time.

Mr Duncan Smith has already found an echo on the Labour backbenches and with the wider public who question Mr Blair's decision to spend so much time abroad when there are serious problems at home.

Prime Minister Tony Blair in Bangladesh
Blair looks for a new world order
The prime minister's critics also claim he has set himself an impossible task in attempting to be the driving force for lasting change on the continent and even suggest he is presenting himself as some sort of world saviour.

With the current US administration showing less enthusiasm for international issues than its predecessor, it is even suggested Mr Blair wants to cast himself as a Bill Clinton Mk II.

Striking a balance

It is claimed he is over-reaching himself with his new-found global ambitions and that he clearly feels happier on the world stage making grand gestures than dealing with the nitty gritty troubles at home.

For his part, Mr Blair has always insisted it is not a matter of "either-or" and that all prime ministers have to strike a balance between domestic and foreign issues.

He believes the events of 11 September proved that countries are more interdependent than ever before and that only global solutions can tackle global problems such as terrorism and poverty.

Massive problems

And that is what will be at the heart of his tour.

African leaders came together last October to forge a fresh alliance aimed at tackling the massive problems facing the continent.

Violence has erupted in Nigeria
Ethnic violence in Nigeria
The 15 leaders from countries including Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, Nigeria, Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa set themselves the priorities of ending conflict, enhancing political and economic governance and boosting inward investment and international trade.

But the prime minister's visit also comes against a background of ethnic clashes in Nigeria which have already claimed dozens of lives.

And there is the continuing crisis over the looming elections in Zimbabwe and President Mugabe's crackdown on dissent - including the jailing of a journalist for the British newspaper the Independent.

See also:

05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Number 10 denies 'wreckers' apology
31 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Tories attack Blair's world ambition
05 Feb 02 | Africa
Lagos tense after riots
02 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Blair promises victory over terror
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