Sarkozy backs Moroccan political reforms
French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday gave strong backing to the political reforms of Morocco's King Mohammed VI, pledging political and economic support to the North African country, dpa reported.
France "welcomed" the king's "vision," Sarkozy said in the northern Moroccan city of Tangier after launching the construction of a high-speed railway line together with the monarch.
He also mentioned the "exceptional success" of the referendum on a constitutional reform which was held in Morocco in July. The reform, which was approved with an overwhelming majority, increases the powers of the prime minister.
It was the king's response to months of demonstrations demanding more democracy in an echo of the "Arab spring" protests in other countries.
Moroccan protesters have criticized the constitutional reform as insufficient.
Sarkozy said that Morocco "continued to move towards democracy."
Together with the king, he launched the construction of a French-built high-speed TGV rail line which Sarkozy described as the first in the Arab world.
The 20-billion-dirham (2.5-billion dollar) line will cover the 400-kilometre distance between Tangier and Casablanca starting in December 2015. It is expected to draw up to 8 million passengers annually.
Travelling at more than 350 kilometres per hour, the TGV will halve the travel time between two of Morocco's most important cities to 2 hours 20 minutes.
Moroccan sources gave the budget as 20 billion dirhams. It will be paid out by Morocco, France, and funds in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, as well as the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development.
The trains will be assembled in Morocco, in the first such operation by the French company Alsthom outside its home country.
The Moroccan TGV was seen as a rare international success for Alsthom, which has so far only sold TGV technology to Spain, Italy and South Korea.
The first agreements between the French and Moroccan rail companies - SNCF and ONCF - were signed in 2007.
The project has however come under criticism in Morocco, where some see it as unnecessary and the deal as lacking in transparency.
Morocco is generally developing its infrastructure, including the road network which is to cover a total of 1,500 kilometres. The port of Tangier is to increase its capacity to hold 8 million containers, making it one of the largest in Africa and on the Mediterranean.