Sarkozy set for hero's welcome on Bulgaria trip

3rd October 2007, Comments 0 comments

3 October 2007, PARIS (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy heads Thursday to Bulgaria, where he is to receive a hero's welcome and the country's highest award for his role in securing the release of six medics jailed in Libya.

3 October 2007

PARIS (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy heads Thursday to Bulgaria, where he is to receive a hero's welcome and the country's highest award for his role in securing the release of six medics jailed in Libya.

Durung the one-day visit, Sarkozy is to hold talks with his Georgian counterpart Georgy Parvanov and Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev, and meet with the six medics who were escorted home by the French first lady on July 24.

Cecilia Sarkozy made two trips to Tripoli as the president's personal envoy to win the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a doctor jailed for life on charges of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with the AIDS virus.

Both Sarkozy and his wife -- already made honorary citizens of Sofia for their role in the affair -- have been nominated to receive a "Stara Planina", Bulgaria's highest award, Thursday in Sofia.

But Cecilia, whose high-profile involvement in the Libya mission has been attacked by critics at home, was not expected to make the trip in person.

Parvanov praised Sarkozy's "exceptional courage," "character" and "true leadership" after he stepped in to help resolve the medics' case.

But at home Sarkozy has come under fire for his handling of the affair, with a parliamentary inquiry launched to determine whether Paris traded arms and nuclear cooperation with Tripoli in exchange for the release.

Two weeks after a trip to Hungary, his father's homeland, Sarkozy's visit to Sofia -- the first by a French president since 1994 -- is part of a tour of European capitals before France takes over the six-month presidency of the European Union from July 2008.

Aside from the medics' case, it will offer a chance to tackle European and bilateral issues with Bulgarian leaders, the presidency said.

The two are to discuss progress on drawing up a simplified treaty to replace the defunct European Union constitution, the French presidency said.

Sarkozy will seek to rally Bulgaria to his proposal for a group of "wise men" to be set up to debate the EU's future over the next two decades -- a proposal which has received a lukewarm welcome in Brussels.

France is also to offer Bulgaria a ship-building partnership in exchange for the purchase of four French corvettes, according to France's ambassador in Sofia. The 750-million-euro (one-billion-dollar) contract was pencilled in by Bulgaria's defence ministry in 2005 but has been held up by budget constraints.

Sarkozy will also deliver a speech aimed at Bulgaria's youth at a Sofia university.

AFP

Subject: French news

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