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Monday, January 4, 1999 Published at 16:52 GMT

UK Politics

Blair to meet Mandela and Gulf troops

Tony Blair will meet Nelson Mandela

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair will bid farewell to outgoing President Nelson Mandela during an official visit to South Africa.

The visit, Mr Blair's first trip to Africa since taking office, also has the aim of attempting to gain defence deals worth £1bn.

After South Africa, the prime minister will fly to Kuwait at the weekend to thank RAF troops for their role in the Operation Desert Fox, the bombing of Iraq.

The prime minister will be collected for the first leg of his trip by a chartered British Airways jumbo jet from his holiday island in the Seychelles for the five-hour flight to Pretoria.

Defence orders

Mr Blair will use the visit to cement ties with Mr Mandela's likely successor, current Deputy President Thabo Mbeki.

[ image: Tony Blair will meet Tornado crew personally]
Tony Blair will meet Tornado crew personally
There are several sessions of talks scheduled between them, and some of Mr Blair's advisers, including his press secretary Alastair Campbell, will also meet their South African counterparts.

Mr Blair hopes to finalise defence orders, and also announce a new investment and aid package for both South Africa and the continent as a whole.

The prime minister's spokesman said the defence deals, covering a range of equipment, had already involved extensive negotiations.

The already strong trade links between the two countries - the UK is South Africa's leading trading partner - could be bolstered by up to £4bn of extra British investment, said officials.

Mr Blair will also ask President Mandela to continue using his negotiating skills to persuade Libya's Colonel Gaddafi to agree a trial in The Hague for the two Libyans suspected of planting the Lockerbie Pan Am jet bomb.

Air base visit

President Mandela will receive the detailed background to Britain's decision to join the US in raids on Iraq in the crisis over United Nations weapons inspectors.

The prime minister will then go on to visit the RAF crews in Kuwait who played a crucial role in the allied raids on Iraq.

Mr Blair will fly to the Ali Al Salem air base to meet the personnel who flew the 12 Tornado GR1 jets and helped keep them in the air.

He will meet the RAF personnel in person in a special trip at the weekend.

Mr Blair wants to pass on his thanks for the RAF's continuing professionalism, his spokesman said.

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