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YOKOHAMA Japan (Reuters) - Japan pledged African leaders a $32 billion in public and private support on Saturday to help growth on the continent and encourage Japanese firms to invest there over the next five years.
The package, unveiled by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the opening of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), includes $14 billion official development aid and $6.5 billion support to help infrastructure.
Resource-poor Japan has long been keen on Africa's vast natural resources, even more so since dependence on oil and gas imports surged after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster shut almost all of Japan's nuclear reactors.
Japan's direct investment in Africa was $460 million in 2011, compared with China's $3.17 billion, according to the Japan External Trade Organization and China's government data.
Some 50 African leaders gathered for the three-day conference held in Yokohama near Tokyo to discuss issues such as economic development, peace-making and anti-piracy.
"What Africa needs now is private-sector investment. 'PPP,' or 'public-private partnership,' leverages that investment," Abe said in an opening speech.
Abe, who has been engaged in aggressive diplomacy since he took office in December, also said he planned to visit Africa as soon as possible.
State-run Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp (JOGMEC) will also provide financial support worth $2 billion in the next five years to help Japanese firms' natural resource development projects, aiming to catch up with China.
Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI), also state-run will secure the maximum of $2 billion trade and investment insurance framework.
(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko, Linda Sieg and Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by William Mallard and Michael Perry)