Japan Prime Minister Koizumi visits West Africa

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited the West African nation of Ghana Wednesday on the final leg of his first African tour.

Koizumi arrived from Ethiopia on Tuesday, touching down at the airport in the Ghanaian capital where he was greeted by President John Kufuor and traditional drummers and dancers.

Koizumi is traveling with a delegation of over 100 officials and business leaders and is due to hold talks Wednesday with Kufuor before heading Thursday to Sweden.

Ghana is widely viewed as one of West Africa's most stable and best governed countries, one of the few African nations where power has been peacefully transferred among competing political groups.

While still deeply impoverished, Ghana is one of the world's top cocoa producers, The port at the capital, Accra, is a leading gateway into West Africa for foreign goods.

Koizumi's trip comes soon after another Asian leader's swing through Africa. Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya last week, signing several major business deals that underlined his fast-growing economy's hunger for African resources and markets.

Japan has the world's second largest economy. In July, Koizumi reversed Japan's policy of slashing foreign aid to pledge new assistance to Africa, saying Japan would boost overseas aid by US$10 billion ( Ђ 8 billion) over the next five years.

Japan is seeking a permanent seat on an expanded U.N. Security Council in reforms intended to enable the United Nations' most powerful body to reflect the realities of the 21st century.

The reforms also are a key issue to Africans, who feel theirs is the only continent without a strong voice on the 15-member council. Currently, 10 council members are elected for two-year terms, and five are permanent members with veto power, the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.

Africa wants two permanent seats with veto-wielding power and three rotating seats.

In January, India, Brazil and Germany reintroduced a proposal, shelved by the General Assembly last year, to expand the council to 25 seats, including six new permanent members with veto power. The plan would have given all the sponsors permanent seats.

Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa have introduced a resolution to expand the council to 26 members, including six new permanent seats with veto power. The African countries cannot agree on who should get permanent seats, reports the AP.

I.L.