Chinese president kicks off eight-nation African tour

A crowd of 3,000 lined the airport tarmac in this West African nation and cheered the arrival of Chinese President Hu Jintao, the first Chinese leader to visit Cameroon in 36 years of bilateral relations.

Hu's stop in Cameroon was the first in an eight-nation tour of the continent, one that highlights China's economic interest in Africa and appeared designed to answer criticism it only wants to exploit the continent's resources without addressing development and political problems.

Trade between China and Africa has quadrupled over the last decade, generating US$40 billion in 2005. Beijing has also become a major supplier of aid, last year announcing US$10 billion in assistance from 2006 to 2009.

Chinese Embassy officials in Cameroon said Hu is expected to sign health and education agreements. China has raised eyebrows by lavishing poor African nations with seemingly no-strings-attached gifts of palatial government buildings, hospitals and dams. Critics contend the flashy gifts are payback for unofficial rights to Africa's rich mineral and natural resources.

Hu is expected to tour two Chinese-funded institutions in Yaounde, including a pediatric hospital and a sports complex, reports AP.

At the airport Tuesday night, the throng of thousands cheered as Hu and his wife descended from their Air China Boeing 747. A 300-person Chinese delegation waved the flags of the two countries.

Hu departs Thursday for Monrovia, Liberia's war-ravaged capital, on his 12-day tour. He's also expected to visit Sudan, where China has come under heavy criticism for offering financial incentives to a regime accused of genocide.

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