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SAfrica's Zuma Gets Cool UK Reception

Wednesday, 03 March 2010 09:44 AM

LONDON – South African President Jacob Zuma received a royal welcome Wednesday as he began a state visit to Britain with colour and pomp, although a row over his polygamy threatened to cloud the trip from the start.

Queen Elizabeth II greeted Zuma on London's Horse Guards parade ground before accompanying him in a black-and-gold horse-drawn carriage to Buckingham Palace, where he is staying for the three-day trip.

In an indication of the importance attached to the visit, Prime Minister Gordon Brown skipped his weekly grilling in parliament to attend the ceremony, which launched a packed agenda including a state banquet on Wednesday evening.

On Thursday Zuma will hold talks with Brown in Downing Street, expected to focus on Zimbabwe. His trip also includes sporting events, ahead of the football World Cup in South Africa, which starts in June.

Zuma, 67, left South Africa embroiled in a major scandal over an out-of-wedlock daughter born in October to the daughter of a top World Cup organiser.

She is the 20th child for the polygamist leader, whose latest wife, Thobeka Madiba Zuma, is accompanying him on the trip. In all, the president has had five wives, although one died and he divorced another.

Zuma's ascent to power had been marked by a lengthy corruption investigation that was ultimately dropped, but the uproar that erupted in February over the baby reignited public criticism and doubts about the president.

Analysts say he will use the visit to try to present himself as a statesman, and Britain is certainly rolling out the red carpet.

But controversy hit Zuma even before the formal part of his visit began, after sharp criticism from some of the British media.

An opinion piece in the right-wing Daily Mail newspaper on the eve of the visit questioned: "Jacob Zuma is a sex-obsessed bigot ... So why is Britain fawning over this buffoon?"

An angry Zuma hit back in an interview with the Johannesburg-based Star newspaper, saying the coverage was disrespectful of his Zulu culture and echoed the attitudes of the colonial era, when Britain ruled South Africa.

"When the British came to our country they said everything we are doing was barbaric, was wrong, inferior in whatever way... I don't know why they are continuing thinking that their culture is more superior than others," he said.

Watching Zuma's arrival in chilly spring sunshine in London, South African Adrian Sturgess, who has lived in Britain for 10 years, said: "I don't think Zuma sets a very good example with his behaviour.

"South Africa is a country extremely affected by AIDS so his behaviour could have implications," the 33-year-old, wearing a green and gold Springboks rugby jacket, told AFP.

After a private lunch at the palace, the queen will show Zuma South Africa-related items in the royal art collection.

The president will then visit the former home of South African anti-apartheid figure Oliver Tambo in north London, before the state banquet in the evening.

On Thursday, Zuma will get down to business with talks with Brown on Zimbabwe, climate change and an upcoming global non-proliferation conference in the United States.

Trade is also likely to feature in the talks. Britain is South Africa's fourth largest export partner, with two-way trade at 74.9 billion rand (9.6 billion dollars, 6.5 billion pounds) in 2008, South African statistics show.

It will not all be work and no play, however. Zuma will visit the 2012 London Olympics site and Wembley Stadium, the home of English football.

South Africa is hosting the football World Cup this year, England is bidding to host the tournament in 2018, and Zuma and Brown are likely to compare notes.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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LONDON – South African President Jacob Zuma received a royal welcome Wednesday as he began a state visit to Britain with colour and pomp, although a row over his polygamy threatened to cloud the trip from the start.
Wednesday, 03 March 2010 09:44 AM
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