Merkel leads huge German delegation to Russia and China

Image caption Business will trump human rights and democracy on the trip

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is starting a five-day visit to Russia, China and Kazakhstan, in a bid to boost trade, energy and security links.

Mrs Merkel is travelling with nearly half of her cabinet and a large business delegation, which expects to sign multi-billion-euro export deals.

Germany is the main trading partner in Europe for both Russia and China.

Mrs Merkel is expected to raise human rights and democracy issues, but business is the trip's dominant theme.

In her weekly video podcast, she said she was excited by the tour, which she hoped would forge even closer ties with some of Germany's key trading partners.

Big contracts

The official party, which includes the bosses of Volkswagen, Siemens and Airbus, is so large that it will travel on board two planes.

In Yekaterinburg, the chancellor is due to urge Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to modernise Russia's economy with the help of German investments.

Siemens is expected to sign a 2.2bn-euro (£1.8bn) contract with Russian Railways to provide 240 trains.

But the main focus of the trip is on China, where German exports have surged this year.

Car-makers such as BMW have weathered the economic downturn thanks to China's apparently unsatiable appetite for top-of-the range limousines.

Officials said that Chancellor Merkel would meet critical journalists and artists in China and raise the unsolved killing of several human rights activists in Russia.

She will also talk about democracy on her first trip to Kazakhstan which, along with Russia, is one of Germany's key energy suppliers.

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