French PM in Egypt for talks on economy, conflicts
France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls flew into Egypt on Saturday to start a three-country Arab tour aimed at boosting economic ties and for holding talks on the region's conflicts.
Valls was to be received by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi before going into a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Sharif Ismail.
French President Francois Hollande announced last month that Egypt had agreed to buy two Mistral warships which his country built for Russia before scrapping the sale over the Ukraine crisis.
According to French government sources, Egypt is to pay 950 million euros ($1 billion) for the warships, with "significant" financing from Saudi Arabia.
In February, Egypt became the first foreign buyer of France's Rafale fighters, in a 5.2-billion-euro ($5.9 billion) deal for 24 of the multi-role combat jets and a frigate.
Apart from arms deals, Egypt has also expressed interest in extending the Cairo metro which was largely built by French companies and in satellite communications deals.
The conflict in Syria and Russia's dramatic military intervention as well as escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence are to figure high in the French prime minister's talks with leaders in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
On Sunday, he is also to meet with Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar University, the most prestigious institution in Sunni Islam.
Travelling on to Jordan, where France has deployed fighter bombers used to strike the Islamic State jihadist group in both Iraq and Syria, Valls is to meet on Monday with Iraqi Christian refugees in the country which has also taken in 650,000 Syrians fleeing war.
Valls, accompanied by Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as well as a high-ranking French business delegation, is to travel on to Saudi Arabia late on Monday.
He is to hold talks on Tuesday with King Salman, in a meeting during which the premier's office said he will request "a gesture of pardon, humanity and clemency" for a young Shiite, Ali al-Nimr, sentenced to death for taking part in 2012 demonstrations.
He will also attend a Franco-Saudi business forum being held in Riyadh on Monday-Tuesday in which 200 companies are taking part.
© 2015 AFP