Reuters International

NIAMEY (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged more financial help to Niger, one of the world's poorest countries, to support its fight against human traffickers and militant Islamists.

Merkel met Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufouon for talks in Niamey on Monday, the second day of her trip to Africa during which the conservative leader aims to work towards curbing future migration waves and also revamp her reputation at home.

An influx of almost one million migrants into Germany last year, many from Syria and Iraq, has hit Merkel's popularity at home. A European Union agreement with Turkey has helped stem the flow from the Middle East and Asia, but thousands of people still risk the perilous Mediterranean crossing from Africa to Europe.

Speaking after talks in Niger's capital, Merkel told a news conference that Germany would support Issoufouon's government with 77 million euros (69.57 million pounds) to combat people smuggling and illegal migration in the Agadez region.

Germany would also support Niger's armed forces in their fight against militant Islamists by offering military vehicles and other equipment worth 10 million euros, she said.

Merkel is the first German chancellor ever to visit Niger, a country regarded as crucial in controlling future migration flows since roughly 90 percent of migrants who reach the Libyan coast come through here.

Merkel has described Africa, with its population of 1.2 billion people, as "the central problem" in the migration issue, and last month said the EU needed to establish migrant deals with North African countries along the lines of the Turkey deal.

After having visited Mali on Sunday and Niger on Monday, the chancellor will travel on to Ethiopia on Tuesday, the last leg of her first multi-day trip to Africa since 2011.

Germany, France and Italy have said they want to develop particularly closer relationships with Niger and Mali, which they see as important partners in solving the migration issue.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke, Writing by Michael Nienaber, Editing by Angus MacSwan)


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