Dakar flies flags high for Chirac visit

2nd February 2005, Comments 0 comments

DAKAR, Feb 2 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac arrived Wednesday on the first visit to Senegal by a French head of state in nearly a decade, underscoring Europe's continued interest in Africa and vowing not to leave the continent behind.

DAKAR, Feb 2 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac arrived Wednesday on the first visit to Senegal by a French head of state in nearly a decade, underscoring Europe's continued interest in Africa and vowing not to leave the continent behind.

The trip is also a symbolic effort to cement ties with what has become France's chief ally in west Africa amid deteriorating relations with former model colony Ivory Coast.

Chirac's Africa tour will also take him to Congo-Brazzaville, where he is to attend a summit on deforestation in central Africa.

The streets of the Senegalese capital Dakar were festooned in red, white and blue banners hailing the strong ties with its former colonial power, its chief trading partner and top source of development aid, estimated at some EUR 100 million (USD 130 million) annually.

Leading a delegation that included more than a dozen business leaders and his agricultural minister, Chirac was welcomed at Dakar's international airport by an impressive contingent of Senegalese dignitaries capped by President Abdoulaye Wade, though crowds of flag-waving citizens were smaller than expected.

Jerome Bonnafont, Chirac's spokesman, said from Paris that Senegal, with its "very strong democratic tradition", has become the main beachhead for French influence in west Africa following civil strife in Ivory Coast, which has virtually closed its doors to French residents.

Senegal, a country of 10 million people, is currently home to some 27,000 French nationals, several hundred of whom fled Ivory Coast in November following anti-French violence in the main city Abidjan in the wake of government air strikes against the north of the divided country.

Bonnafont said that regional stability as well as Chirac's idea of a worldwide tax on transactions to finance development in poorer countries would be foremost on the agenda for Wednesday's talks.

Security was tightened hours before Chirac's 4:00 pm (1600 GMT) arrival, snarling traffic on the narrow streets leading downtown and clearing the busy sidewalks of the legions of vendors, beggars and children known as "talibes".

The French president's official visit will also include his participation, along with five more of his west African counterparts as well as Morocco's Prince Moulay Rachid, at a summit devoted to agricultural liberalisation.

Chirac and Wade will travel together Thursday to the northern Senegalese town of Saint-Louis, the capital of the territory once known as French Western Africa until 1902.

Officials in Saint-Louis, built on an island at the mouth of the Senegal River, hope that Chirac's visit will galvanise efforts to restore some of its historical and unique architecture, much of which is in desperate need of repair.

The town is working feverishly to build a dais on the historic Place Faidherbe, where Wade and Chirac are expected to address the public, and has repainted sidewalks and planted trees in anticipation of the visit.

Wade told AFP in an interview last week that he saw the visit as "a sign of interest, of consideration and of friendship between two peoples who built their history together."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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