Friday, June 14, 2013

White House cancels Obama safari in Tanzania: report

US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama wave to supporters after delivering remarks during a campaign event in Davenport, Iowa. The White House has cancelled a safari that President Obama and  Michelle were due to take in Tanzania over budgetary concerns, The Washington Post reported June 13, 2013. FILE

US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama wave to supporters after delivering remarks during a campaign event in Davenport, Iowa. The White House has cancelled a safari that President Obama and Michelle were due to take in Tanzania over budgetary concerns, The Washington Post reported June 13, 2013. FILE 

By AFP

WASHINGTON

The WhiteHouse has cancelled a safari that US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle were due to take in Tanzania over budgetary concerns, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

The newspaper, citing a Secret Service planning document, said the excursion scheduled during a tour of Africa that Obama will undertake later this month would have required agents protecting him to take extraordinary precautions.

The safari "would have required the president's special counterassault team to carry sniper rifles with high-calibre rounds that could neutralise cheetahs, lions or other animals if they became a threat," the paper reported.

Outlining the vast security preparations made for Obama's trip to Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa, the document was provided to the Post by a person "concerned about the amount of resources necessary for the trip."

It did not provide cost information.

The Post said the WhiteHouse cancelled the safari Wednesday after the paper inquired about the "purpose and expense." The Obamas had been expected to spend more than two hours at Tanzania's Mikumi National Park.

The WhiteHouse was not immediately available for comment, but a spokesman told the Post that a trip to South Africa's Robben Island, the site of the prison where anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela was held, had taken precedence.

"We do not have a limitless supply of assets to support presidential missions, and we prioritised a visit to Robben Island over a two-hour safari in Tanzania," said the spokesman, Josh Earnest.

"Unfortunately, we couldn't do both."

The Post said Obama's Africa tour, his first since taking office in January 2009, could cost the government between $60 million and $100 million, based on cost of similar trips in recent years.

The report comes as many government agencies struggle with mandatory budget cuts that took effect in March because US lawmakers failed to strike a wider budget deal.

Hundreds of Secret Service agents will be dispatched for the president's visit, along with a Navy aircraft carrier or amphibious ship, with a fully staffed medical trauma centre stationed offshore, the report said.

Dozens of vehicles will also be brought to the three countries by military transport planes, along with sheets of bulletproof glass to cover the windows of the hotels where the Obamas stay.

"Fighter jets will fly in shifts, giving 24-hour coverage over the president's airspace," the report said, citing the Secret Service document.

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