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Blinken Starts S. Africa Three-Nation Tour With Remembrance

FILE - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives at Lanseria International Airport in Johannesburg on August 7, 2022.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in South Africa on Sunday, the first leg of a three-nation African visit that also includes the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. His South African visit began with remembrance of a key moment in the nation's struggle against apartheid.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken kicked off a three-nation African trip Sunday paying tribute to the Soweto Uprising, a student protest whose tragic ending galvaniszd the world against the apartheid regime.

Blinken laid a wreath and toured the Hector Pieterson Museum, built in memory of students killed in a 1976 protest which became one of the watersheds in the anti-apartheid movement.

It was named after the 12-year-old boy who was the first to be shot and killed by police on June 16, 1976.

Over 170 were gunned down when thousands of black students protested at being forced to study in Afrikaans, the language of the white-minority regime.

Blinken will Monday hold talks with South African counterpart Naledi Pandor and also make a policy announcement on the US government's new Africa strategy, Pretoria said in a statement.

During the afternoon visit to Soweto township, the heartland of South Africa's anti-apartheid struggle, Blinken was shown around the museum by Pieterson's sister Antoinette Sithole.

He made reference to the iconic black-and-white picture of a dying Hector Pieterson being carried away by a teary fellow student after security forces opened fire on the young protesters.

"What's so extraordinary about this museum is that it's living history because it's inspiring people to see the power that young people can have to make change," Blinken said after the tour.

Blinken will Monday hold talks with South African counterpart Naledi Pandor and while in South Africa, make a key address on U.S. policy toward Sub-Saharan Africa.

Climate change, trade, health, and food hunger will also be discussed with South African officials. and onward when the top U.S. diplomat also visits DRC and Rwanda.

US Secretary of State Blinken Arrives in Johannesburg
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Blinken's trip comes shortly after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov completed his tour of the continent, where he defended Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and blamed Western sanctions for Africa's rising fuel and food costs. The United States has blamed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for driving up prices.

Analysts say Africa has again become a battleground for influence and ideology decades after the end of the Cold War.

While in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, State Department officials say Blinken will work to reduce tensions between Congo and Rwanda. Congo has accused its neighbor of backing the M23 armed group, a charge Kigali denies.

In Rwanda, Blinken will raise the "wrongful detention" of U.S. permanent resident Paul Rusesabagina, according to the State Department. Rusesabagina’s actions helped save hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide and inspired the movie Hotel Rwanda.

This is Blinken’s second trip to Africa as secretary of state, after visiting Nigeria, Senegal and Kenya in November.

This report was written with information sourced from Agence France-Presse and Reuters