TUNISIA - FRANCE

Sarkozy lands several deals in Tunisia

3 min

On his visit, Nicolas Sarkozy clinched key deals with President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. France and Tunisia have signed a nuclear energy agreement, paving the way for the construction of a power plant in Tunis, despite its human rights issues.

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See also: Rights groups sound alarm on Tunisia

 

Read: Portrait of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali


TUNIS, April 28 (Reuters) - President Nicolas Sarkozy
arrived on Monday in Tunisia, one of France's closest Arab
allies, aiming to sign trade and energy accords and discuss
terrorism and illegal migration.


His three-day official visit to the north African country of
10 million is likely to anger human rights activists in Tunisia
and abroad who want France to put more pressure on the
government to improve its human rights record.


Tunisia is the Maghreb's most westernised state, but human
rights groups routinely accuse the government of muzzling the
press and beating and jailing opponents. It denies the
accusations.


Sarkozy's visit is the latest in a series of trips to North
Africa that have seen multibillion dollar deals between French
companies and customers in Morocco, Libya and Algeria.


Sarkozy also plans to increase aid to Tunisia.


"The accords being signed as well as the financial
conventions on aid to be granted to Tunisia underscore France's
determination to help the country's development and growth,"
Sarkozy told Tunisian French-language Le Temps in an interview.


Sarkozy, accompanied by wife Carla Bruni and seven
ministers, will hold talks with Tunisian counterpart Zine al
Abidine Ben Ali before the two leaders oversee the signing of a
framework deal on civil nuclear cooperation on Monday evening.


France has reached similar deals with Algeria, Libya and
Morocco which have focused on the training of nuclear engineers.





PLANES AND POWER


France hopes planemaker Airbus will reach a deal to sell
about 20 aircraft to Tunisian flag carrier Tunisair. Airbus is
owned by European aerospace group EADS.


Alstom is expected to win a 300 million euro ($470 million)
deal to equip a Tunisian power plant during the visit, officials
said.


The French Development Agency, France's government overseas
development aid arm, expects to sign seven deals granting the
Tunisian government a total of 140 million euros in soft loans
to finance energy and rural and urban development, they added.


Paris and Tunis also plan cooperation accords on migration.
About 600,000 Tunisian expatriates live in France, Tunisia's top
investment partner. Bilateral trade stood at 7 billion euros in
2007.


"Legal migrations are the engine of our relations. They must
be facilitated and together we will fight illegal immigration,"
Sarkozy added in the interview with Le Temps.


Much of the migrant flow across the Mediterranean is of
sub-Saharan Africans hoping to start a new life in Europe.


Migrant support groups accuse the European Union of
pressuring Maghreb states to expel such migrants but failing to
produce promised aid to help them find alternative livelihoods.


Sarkozy and Ben Ali also plan to step up counter-terrorism
cooperation and discuss the future Union for the Mediterranean,
one of Sarkozy's favourite diplomatic projects.


The Union is intended to cement cooperation between European
and southern Mediterranean states including Turkey and Israel.


Tunisia has been named as a candidate to host the offices of
the future Union, to the dismay of human rights activists.


"The Tunisian regime would use this visit as a signal of
support. We hope that Sarkozy would not fall into that trap and
sing praises," Moncef Marzouk, a Tunisian exile in France, said
in Paris. "That would be bad for democrats and opponents."

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