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Phone-hacking overshadows British PM’s African tour

British Prime Minister David Cameron sought to bridge the gap with South African President Jacob Zuma over the Libya conflict on a visit Monday overshadowed by the phone-hacking scandal back home.

Cameron held talks in the South African capital Pretoria with President Jacob Zuma on the first leg of a trip which will also take him to the continent’s other major power, Nigeria.

Zuma has accused NATO of overstepping its UN mandate to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, although South Africa voted for the UN resolution that the alliance uses to justify its bombing campaign.

“It is no secret that we have disagreed on some aspects of how to respond to the violence in Libya,” Cameron said.

“But we are agreed in the immediate imperative — that all sides must take every effort to avoid the loss of civilian life. We agree on the process needed” for a political transition led by the people of Libya, he said.

“And we agree on the ultimate destination, that Kadhafi must step aside to allow the people of Libya to decide their own future.”

“The president believes that is the outcome of a political process. I believe for a political process to work, this has to be the starting point.”

Cameron has called for Kadhafi to step down. South Africa has refused to join in that call, saying the decision should be part of negotiations among the warring parties.

“We feel as African countries that the Libyan people must decide” about Kadhafi’s future,” Zuma said.

“What happens to Kadhafi must be decided by the Libyan people. You need to negotiate how, why and where he must go,” Zuma added.

“The African Union took a clear position that military intervention will not solve the problem and that it requires a political solution.”

The focus of Cameron’s trip was on boosting trade with a continent where China has overtaken traditional partners as the leading investor and trade partner.

Cameron is accompanied on his trip by a delegation of 25 business leaders, from the chief executive of Barclays bank, Bob Diamond, to the director of communications and public policy of the English Premier League, Bill Bush.

After his talks with Zuma, Cameron met with South African business leaders in Johannesburg and toured the continent’s richest stock exchange.

Cameron said he and Zuma reaffirmed commitment to double bilateral trade by 2015, and repeated his support for a pan-African free trade area currently under negotiation.

He argued that a free trade area could increase gross domestic product across the continent by an estimated $62 billion a year — $20 million more than the world gives sub-Saharan Africa in aid.

Later Cameron met with Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu at Liliesleaf Farm, an apartheid-era hideout for Nelson Mandela and other freedom fighters.

“I didn’t know that you were so young,” Tutu said in greeting Cameron with a cup of tea, before discussing the farm that is now a museum.

But Cameron’s official agenda was obscured by the mushrooming scandal at home.

He was told about the resignation of Paul Stephenson, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, just over an hour after taking off from London on what is his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since coming to power last year.

Asked if he was making a mistake by being in Africa at such a crucial time, Cameron was forced to defend his visit and called for an extension of parliament which is currently due to break up for the summer on Tuesday.

The prime minister has already shortened the visit which originally was due to last five days and take in the new state of South Sudan as well as Rwanda.

“It is right for Britain to be engaged with South Africa and to be engaged with Africa as a whole. There is a huge opportunity for trade, for growth, for jobs,” Cameron said.