Merkel talks energy in Nigeria after patrol boat controversy

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel held energy talks Thursday with the president of oil-and-gas rich Nigeria after her trip to Angola sparked controversy over an offer to sell patrol boats.

Merkel said she and President Goodluck Jonathan discussed ways Germany and Africa's largest oil producer could boost cooperation, stressing energy as a particular area of focus, though she did not provide further details.

Energy "will no doubt constitute a very important area for that intensified cooperation", Merkel told journalists after the talks in the Nigerian capital, adding that a bilateral commission would be set up to further the effort.

"I want to use the opportunity to invite the president to come and pay us a visit in Germany next year," she said according to an English translation of her remarks. "That will then provide us an opportunity to review the progress made by then."

The German chancellor was welcomed by a military guard at the presidential palace in Abuja on Thursday morning following her arrival in Africa's most populous nation the previous night.

Security was tight, with Nigeria hit by almost daily bomb attacks and shootings in recent weeks, mostly in the north of the country, blamed on an Islamist sect.

Referencing Nigeria's security challenges, Merkel said "we made the point that it is very important that Nigeria succeeds in fighting violence and terrorism".

"We made it very clear that respect for human rights is of the utmost importance," she said.

Nigerian troops have been accused of heavy-handed tactics in hunting the Islamists, including targeting civilians and burning their homes, which they deny.

The vast country remains poor and sorely lacking in infrastructure despite its oil reserves, with corruption deeply rooted.

"Nigeria, we know, still has to overcome a few impediments and problems so as to ensure prosperity for everyone in this country," Merkel said.

"And Germany will want to be at Nigeria's side and to help Nigeria in this endeavour."

Merkel was expected to leave Nigeria on Thursday afternoon after opening a Nigerian-German business forum and meeting with the head of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States, based in Abuja.

Nigeria is one of the world's largest oil exporters, with some three percent of its crude exports going to Germany.

It is also home to vast gas reserves -- considered the world's eighth largest -- but the resource remains largely untapped, mainly due to a lack of infrastructure. The country plans to greatly boost gas production over the coming years.

Nigeria intends to privatise electricity production and distribution in a bid to solve its power woes, with outages occurring daily, opening opportunities for potential investors.

Merkel was criticised by her political opponents at home after her Wednesday visit to Angola, another major oil-producing country, over the possible sale of six to eight patrol vessels to Luanda.

Critics said such a deal would be inappropriate considering Angola's rights record. Germany's ARD public television says the deal for up to eight patrol boats is worth between 10 and 25 million euros.

According to a German government transcript of her remarks in Angola, Merkel said she did not believe such a deal would constitute "a build-up in armament in the broad sense of the term".

"It's more a case of providing border patrol boats for which we wanted to sign a memorandum of understanding. But this will take a little while longer," she said.

"Overall it's about toughening up Africa so it can take on by itself peace missions under UN mandate. That's in Europe's interest."

Opposition MPs in Germany slammed the proposed deal, coming hot on the heels of reports of the secret sale of hundreds of German tanks to Saudi Arabia that put Merkel under fire last week.

Claudia Roth, co-head of the opposition Greens, called Merkel the "patron of the German arms lobby" while Rolf Muetzenich from the Social Democrats said the sale would be "completely unacceptable" and contravened arms export guidelines.

"Angola is one of the poorest countries in the world and suffers from massive corruption. Angola needs all kinds of help and support, but definitely not patrol boats to protect its borders," Roth said.

© 2011 AFP

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