Sarkozy in first visit to Algeria, Tunisia

10th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 10, 2007 (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy pays a brief visit to Algeria and Tunisia on Tuesday, his first trip outside Europe since taking office two months ago.

PARIS, July 10, 2007 (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy pays a brief visit to Algeria and Tunisia on Tuesday, his first trip outside Europe since taking office two months ago.

The visit will underscore Sarkozy's desire to bring north Africa closer to Europe by creating a Mediterranean Union that groups countries from the region, the Middle East and Turkey.

Sarkozy will "pay homage to the unique and unshakeable friendship" between France and its former north African colonies and "present the idea of a Mediterranean Union," presidential spokesman David Martinon said last week.

North African countries would "naturally be pillars" of the proposed union comprising countries on the Mediterranean rim, he said.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is expected to raise concerns over Sarkozy's push to toughen immigration rules, including a new provision that will make it more difficult for families to be reunited in France.

Sarkozy, who took over from Jacques Chirac in May pledging to shake up relations with Africa, will have a working lunch with Bouteflika, 70, who has been in office for eight years.

The two men last met in November in Algiers when Sarkozy, then interior minister, held five hours of talks with Bouteflika that ended with a warm embrace.

Relations between France and Algeria have nevertheless been strained after a new friendship treaty designed to open up a new era of ties was scrapped over France's refusal to atone for the "crimes" of colonization.

Seeking to move forward, Bouteflika last month sent a message to Sarkozy proposing a new special partnership to replace the failed treaty and put relations on stronger footing.

In interviews to two Algerian newspapers, Sarkozy asserted that he was in favour of remembrance to allow France and Algeria to better understand their shared history, but not repentance.

Algeria's younger generations are "looking to the future and not fixated on the past," Sarkozy said in the interview to the French-language El-Watan and the Arabic El Khabar newspapers.

"They do not want their leaders to put everything on hold and engage in self-flagellation for the mistakes or missteps of the past," said Sarkozy.

"There has been darkness, suffering and injustice during the 132 years that France spent in Algeria, but not just that," said the new president.

"I am in favor of recognizing the facts, but not for repenting which is a religious notion that does not have its place in state-to-state relations."
Algeria fought an eight-year war for independence from France that ended in 1962.

Sarkozy also said "it was time to find a lasting solution" to the disputed territory of Western Sahara.   

UN-brokered talks last month between Morocco and Western Sahara's Polisario independence movement on their lingering dispute over the territory were inconclusive but the two sides agreed to meet again in August.

Sarkozy said the lingering conflict dating back from the 1970s was "an obstacle to a rapprochement between the countries of north Africa."  

A visit to Morocco was postponed due to scheduling problems with Moroccan leaders and could take place in early October.

The French president said that he was ready to strengthen military cooperation with Algeria by providing more equipment for air, navy and army forces.

He later in the day travels to Tunis to meet with President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, 70, who has ruled Tunisia since 1987.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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