Sarkozy, king to kick off work on Moroccan high-speed rail

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived Friday to kick off work on Africa's first high-speed rail line, in a bid to highlight France's role in delivering the project.

He was met at Tangiers airport by King Mohammed ahead of the joint launch of the 350-kilometer (219-mile) project linking the northern port city with Casablanca to the south via the capital Rabat.

Sarkozy, who was accompanied by a clutch of ministers and other officials, was to have talks with the king afterwards before returning to Paris.

The Tangiers-Casablanca line, scheduled to enter service in 2015, cutting the journey time from nearly six hours to just over two hours, will eventually be extended to Marrakesh and Agadir, Moroccan officials have said.

Rabat says it expects the first leg of the line to cost three billion euros ($4.1 billion), for which France has extended a 920-million-euro loan.

The balance is being funded largely by Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

In December, the French group Alstom inked a 400-million-euro deal to provide Morocco with 14 high speed trains, a contract seen as a boost for the company after it was snubbed by Eurostar, which had elected to buy trains from Germany's Siemens.

France is its former colony Morocco's top trading partner, absorbing 25 percent of exports.

© 2011 AFP

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