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Monday, 18 July 2011

David Cameron cuts Africa trip short over phone-hacking crisis

David Cameron begins a two-day visit to Africa which has been curtailed to allow the prime minister to fly home early to finalise the terms and membership of Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into the media.

In his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as prime minister, Cameron will fly into South Africa with a message that an African free trade area could increase GDP across the continent by more than it currently receives in aid.

He will praise his generation for marching against African debt and for holding concerts to raise funds for aid to the continent.

But in article in the South African Business Day he will call for a change of approach. "They have never once had a march or a concert to call for what will in the long term save far more lives and do far more good – an African free trade area," he writes.

But Cameron's free trade message is likely to be overshadowed by events back home following the arrest of Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, who entertained the prime minister at her Oxfordshire home over the Christmas period.

Downing Street aides, who had at one point considered cancelling the trip altogether at the height of the phone-hacking crisis last week, instead decided to cut it back from four days to two. Cameron will now just visit South Africa and Nigeriaon Tuesday. Plans to visit Rwanda and Sudan have been scrapped.

Time has been found in the diary to allow No 10 aides – and possibly the prime minister – to watch the appearance by Rupert and James Murdoch.

The prime minister will fly home late on Tuesday to allow him to finalise the arrangements for Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry in four areas

The first area will look at the terms of reference for the two elements of the inquiry – the first one focusing on media regulation and the second, presided over by Leveson, that will examine the alleged wrong doing and relations between the police and the media. The second part will not begin its work until after the criminal investigation.

The remaining three areas are the membership of the panel, which will examine media regulation over the next 12 months; the start date for Lord Leveson, and the size and location of the secretariat that will assist Leveson.



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