Updated: 01/11/2014 02:44 | By Agence France-Presse

Japan PM begins Africa tour in Ivory Coast

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived Friday in Abidjan on the first stop of his Africa tour to boost ties and business relations on an continent that has become a key trading partner with China.

Japan PM begins Africa tour in Ivory Coast

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is welcomed by local chiefs on January 10, 2014 at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny international airport in Abidjan

Abe was met at the airport by Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara on this first African visit by a Japanese head of government in eight years.

The Japanese leader, accompanied by about 50 executives of major Japanese businesses, according to the Jiji news agency, hailed the country as a regional economic power.

"Japanese businesses have great interest" in west Africa, a market of some 300 million people, Abe said in an interview with an Ivorian newspaper published on Friday.

Japan has been engaged in Africa for decades, particularly in financing peacekeeping missions.

In June last year during an international conference in Tokyo on development in Africa, Japan pledged 10.6 billion euros ($14.5 billion) in aid to the continent over five years.

Abe's Africa tour which will also include Mozambique and Ethiopia comes at the same time as a visit by China's foreign minister Wang Yi, who left Monday for Ethiopia, followed by stops in Djibouti, Ghana and Senegal.

China became in 2009 Africa's top trading partner at 13.5 percent, compared with trade at 2.7 percent with Japan, according to the OECD.

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