Sarkozy visits Algeria and Tunisia to boost old ties

11th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

TUNIS, July 10, 2007 (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy held talks with his Tunisian counterpart, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, here Tuesday as the French leader wrapped up a visit to North Africa aimed at deepening old ties.

TUNIS, July 10, 2007 (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy held talks with his Tunisian counterpart, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, here Tuesday as the French leader wrapped up a visit to North Africa aimed at deepening old ties.

Ben Ali greeted Sarkozy on the tarmac as the French president arrived from a similar "working visit" to Algeria on his first trip outside Europe since becoming French head of state in May this year.

France has historical ties to Algeria and Tunisia, running both for much of the 19th and 20th centuries and accepting many of their people as immigrants.

Today, it wants to secure its influence as China seeks to tap the region's natural resources for its booming economy -- especially Algeria's significant oil reserves.

Sarkozy's spokesman, David Martinon, said the trip reflected France's "deep friendship" for North African countries, with which it wanted to found a Mediterannean Union that would also include Middle East states and Turkey.

The official Tunsian news agency confirmed Sarkozy and Ben Ali discussed the proposed union as well as ways to bring bilateral relations to a "new level."

On his first leg to Algeria, Sarkozy said he would return to that country in November for a full state visit that will unveil "concrete and tangible results".

He said, after a five-hour meeting with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, that "France wants to cooperate with Algeria on energy matters, in all its forms be it today's energy, gas, or the energy of the future, civilian nuclear energy."

But relations between France and Algeria remain brittle after a friendship treaty was scrapped over France's refusal to meet Algerian demands for an apology for the "crimes" of colonization.

In interviews with two Algerian newspapers published on the day of his visit, Sarkozy rejected the view that France should repent for its colonial past, saying Algeria's younger generation is "looking to the future and not fixated on the past."

He admitted "there has been darkness, suffering and injustice during the 132 years that France spent in Algeria," but said he did not favour "repenting, which is a religious notion that does not have its place in state-to-state relations."

More than 1.5 million Algerians died in the country's eight-year war for independence from France that ended in 1962.

Sarkozy was due to wrap up his trip early Wednesday, when he would return to Paris.

A third leg to Morocco was originally planned but had to be scrapped because of what French and Moroccan officials said were scheduling problems.

A junior minister in Morocco's foreign ministry, Tayeb Fasi Firhi, said his country supported the idea of a Mediterranean Union and called it "a need".

He also said that preparations were being made for Sarkozy to visit Morocco in October.


Copyright AFP

SUbject: French news

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