Sarkozy, Bruni make first foreign trip to Chad and South Africa

28th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

Nicolas Sarkozy and first lady Carla Bruni leave Wednesday on their first foreign trip together, travelling to France's crisis-hit ex-colony Chad and on to South Africa.

   PARIS, February 27, 2008  - French President Nicolas Sarkozy and first lady
Carla Bruni leave Wednesday on their first foreign trip together, travelling
to France's crisis-hit ex-colony Chad and on to South Africa, sources at the
presidency said.
   It will be the former model-turned-singer's first official outing since
marrying the French head of state on February 2, and comes at a time when the
president is battling a collapse in popularity at home.
   During a two-day trip to South Africa, Sarkozy is expected to promote
French nuclear know-how to the continent's economic powerhouse, whose buoyant
growth risks being jeopardised by massive energy shortages.
   But first the French leader stops for several hours early on Wednesday in
Ndjamena, where Paris helped President Idriss Deby Itno repel a rebel assault
early this month, presidential spokesman David Martinon confirmed.
   Martinon did not officially confirm whether Bruni would accompany the
   The French president "hesitated" about whether the visit Chad, a diplomatic
source said, but "not going would have suggested leaving the country to its
own devices."
   Sarkozy's is expected to urge Deby to relanch a dialogue with the political
opposition with eventual democratic elections in mind, and establish a
committee to investigate the disappearances of top opposition leaders during
the clashes.
   The French president is also expected to make a case for the French-led
3,700-strong EUFOR mission to Chad and the Central African Republic which
resumed deployment on February 12.
   Lower down on Sarkozy's agenda, a diplomatic source said, will be efforts
to secure an official pardon of six French aid workers sentenced to hard
labour for trying to flying more than 100 children out of the country -- which
Deby has said he would be willing to grant.
   The six were transferred to France in December where they are serving out
eight-year jail terms.
   Chad's former colonial ruler, France maintains more than 1,000 troops and
fighter and reconnaissance planes in the country and provided Deby with key
logistical support against the rebel offensive.
   Sarkozy is expected to dine with the troops before flying on to South
Africa for a two-day state visit.
   France previously said Sarkozy could soon visit Ndjamena if it met a
"certain number of conditions," notably regarding the fate of two opposition
leaders detained in the wake of the rebel offensive.
   Chad's government said Tuesday it would move a third opposition leader from
detention to house arrest, but gave no news of the other two.
   But rights group Amnesty International issued a statement saying it had
evidence the French government knew of the whereabouts of the detainees as
early as 11 February, which Paris denied.
   "The French government must immediately disclose publicly all information
they have about the fate of these two men," said Tawanda Hondora, deputy
director of Amnesty International's Africa Programme.
   "These men are at grave risk of being tortured. The French government
should not cover up the excesses of the Chadian government -- whatever
bilateral agreements they may have."
   Preserving stability in Chad is vital to the success of a European Union
peacekeeping force to protect refugees near the border with Sudan's war-torn
Darfur region, whose deployment was held up by the rebel attack.
   Sarkozy next heads to Cape Town in South Africa, his first visit to an
English-speaking African nation, where he is to hold talks with his
counterpart Thabo Mbeki and deliver a speech to parliament.
   French nuclear giant Areva, whose chairman Anne Lauvergeon will join
Sarkozy on the trip, says it was ready to build up to 12 next-generation power
plants in South Africa, after electricity shortages shut down the country's
key mining industry last month.
   The plants would be built in partnership with construction conglomerate
Bouygues and French electricity giant EDF, alongside South African engineering
firm Aveng.
   The French leader is to oversee the signing of a raft of energy, science
and technology deals, as well as partnerships in the fields of tourism and
transport security ahead of the 2010 Football World Cup.
   According to a French diplomats, "South Africa is an obvious partner for
France... if we want to have a serious African policy."


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