French prime minister in Ivory Coast on west African tour

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French Prime Minister Francois Fillon arrived late Thursday in the economic capital of Ivory Coast, the first stop on his west African tour to seal closer ties with the region.

"Few French communities overseas have been tested like yours has this year," said Fillon on arrival in Abidjan, some three months after the end of Ivory Coast's post-election crisis that claimed about 3,000 lives.

France backed Alassane Ouattara's victory in last November's presidential election -- as did much of the international community -- over Laurent Gbagbo who refused to hand over power until his arrest on April 11.

The French premier hailed Ouattara, who was sworn in as president in May, for seeking truth and reconciliation in the aftermath of the violent electoral standoff and pledged the support of the former colonial power in this effort.

"With its full sovereignty, it (Ivory Coast) must now make up for the years lost in interminable internal fights," said Fillon, referring to the country's division into a rebel held north and government south after a failed 2002 coup, which last year's election was meant to end as a final transitional step back to a united country.

Fillon is travelling with several members of his government and business executives and hopes to partner with Ivory Coast on developing both its public and private sectors.

On Friday, Fillon will meet with Ouattara before heading in the evening to his next stop in Ghana, considered a democratic model with strong economic growth in west Africa aiming to build stronger ties with France.

From there he will go on to Gabon, already a military and economic partner of France in the region.

© 2011 AFP

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