Chirac in the limelight at Africa-France summit

15th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

CANNES, France, Feb 15, 2007 (AFP) - More than 30 African leaders are taking part in an Africa-France summit opening Thursday that is seen as one of President Jacques Chirac's last forays on the international stage.

CANNES, France, Feb 15, 2007 (AFP) - More than 30 African leaders are taking part in an Africa-France summit opening Thursday that is seen as one of President Jacques Chirac's last forays on the international stage.

Chirac, 74, is expected to announce in the coming weeks that he will not seek a third mandate and retire from politics after 12 years in office.

 The two-day gathering on the French Riviera will see Chirac bask in the company of leaders that he considers close friends, including Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, Africa's longest serving president, and Paul Biya of Cameroon.

"It's true, he does defend the cause of Africa in international fora," Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said in an interview to Le Monde newspaper.

"If we have a problem with the G8 or the European Union, he is the one we would go to," he said.

But as Chirac prepared to make his farewell to Africa, critics challenged the view that the French leader had taken the plight of the world's poorest continent to heart.

In a harshly-worded attack on Chirac's Africa policy, Socialist candidate Segolene Royal said the president had tarnished France's image by nurturing "personal friendships" at the expense of partnerships that would be in the general interest.

"In the minds of Africans, our country is aligned with the most questionable regimes on the continent," said Royal, who is challenging governing party candidate Nicolas Sarkozy in the April-May presidential election.

The Socialist Party later said the letter from Royal was sent out by mistake and issued a new text that contained largely the same criticism.

The French non-governmental organisation Survie (Survival) meanwhile is organising a counter-summit in Cannes to draw attention to "France's support for dictators" and to call for change after Chirac's departure, said Odile Biyidi, president of the NGO.

The 24th Africa-France summit is being held under the theme "Africa and world balance" with special focus to be put on the continent's oil and mineral wealth at a time when China is making an unprecedented push on that front.

A meeting between the leaders of Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic is due to be held on the sidelines of the summit to discuss the worsening situation in Darfur.

Notably absent from the two-day gathering will be South African Thabo Mbeki, Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe who is the target of an EU travel ban.

Representatives from 48 of the 53 African countries will attend the gathering being held after China scored a diplomatic coup by attracting 41 African leaders to Beijing in November for a historic summit.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, is due to make an address at the opening of the summit along with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who will host the next Africa-France summit in 2009.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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