Sarkozy wraps up Africa trip

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrapped up his mini-tour of three African countries Friday, after meeting with Niger leader Mamadou Tandja.

NIAMEY - Sarkozy flew home in late afternoon from Niamey, the capital of Niger, a country that is a major source of uranium for France's state controlled nuclear energy company Areva.

On Thursday he had visited Kinshasa and Brazzaville.

Sarkozy called the recent deal concluded between France and Niger in January allowing Areva to start operating a giant uranium mine at Imouraren in the north of the country as a "win-win" partnership.

"We have to look after the interests of France and you look after Niger's interests. But when it comes to long-term investments we think that the only contractual relationship possible is a win-win one," Sarkozy told a meeting of the local chapter of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

"If you don't feel you're getting a fair price then it's a bad deal for all those concerned," Sarkozy told Niger's Prime Minister Seini Oumarou at the meeting.

"Obviously we're here because we need your uranium but we're also here because we need strategic partners and Niger is a strategic partner that is absolutely essential," he continued.

Campaigners here have accused Areva, which has been mining uranium in Niger for the past 40 years, of looting Niger's natural resources.

They have criticised the "catastrophic" effects of its activities on the environment and the health and rights of the people living close to its sites.

Tuareg rebels have been waging a campaign of attacks here since 2007 to seek greater benefits from uranium extraction for the local population.

The French President also held talks with his Niger counterpart Mamadou Tandja, who is constitutionally obliged to step down after elections planned for the end of the year at the latest.

Niger was the third and final leg of Sarkozy's trip, which also took him to Democratic Republic of Congo and neighbouring Republic of Congo, a long-time ally of France.

During the Kinshasa leg of the trip, given over in large part to regional political issues, Areva signed an agreement with the Kinshasa government allowing the company to prospect for and mine uranium with the authorities.

Historically the Democratic Republic of Congo has produced significant quantities of uranium.

Sarkozy has sought to revamp France's relations with African countries.

In a keynote speech to the South African parliament last year, he called for a new era in such relations.

But commentators say the strategic shift, which entailed renegotiating French military accords with Africa, has yet to translate into major changes on the ground.




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