Sarkozy travels to Morocco

Other News Materials 23 October 2007 02:01 (UTC +04:00)

(France 24) - President Sarkozy is heading to Morocco with a crew of business leaders hoping to close deals that could involve France's high speed train TGV and Rafale jet fighters. The 3-day visit should also include a discussion of Sarkozy's plan for a Mediterranean Union.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy heads on Monday to Morocco for a three-day state visit intended to cement ties with the former colony and clinch a raft of high-profile trade deals.

King Mohammed VI is to roll out the red carpet for his "friend" Sarkozy, whose visit was initially planned as part of an African tour in July but was postponed at Rabat's request.

Travelling with a 70-strong delegation of business leaders, Sarkozy was to meet Mohamed VI and deliver a speech to parliament.

Presidential spokesman David Martinon said Sarkozy would repeat his "respect and esteem" for Mohamed VI's "determination and courage" to carry out reforms and highlight " Morocco's progress towards modernity" and its strong links with France.

Sarkozy is expected to defend his idea of a new Mediterranean union, in which Morocco -- a crossroads for African migration towards Europe -- has already expressed an interest.

On the economic front, Sarkozy was due to seal around 15 new contracts -- consolidating France's place as the north African kingdom's main commercial partner.

Reportedly top of the agenda is a deal for French group Alstom, maker of the high-speed TGV train, to build a rail link between the cities of Tangiers and Marrakech, to be operational by 2012-2015.

Alstom, which has previously only exported the TGV to South Korea outside of Europe, has declined to comment on the contract, reportedly worth 1.8 billion euros (2.6 billion dollars).

But Alstom chairman Patrick Kron will be among the business leaders joining Sarkozy.

France also hopes to sell a frigate to the Moroccan navy -- a deal that would partly offset last year's failure by France's Dassault Aviation to sell Morocco a dozen 18 Rafale combat planes.

Both countries were also to sign accords on judicial cooperation, including a deal that would allow detainees with dual French-Moroccan nationality to choose in which country to serve their sentence.

The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has urged Sarkozy to raise the issue of press freedoms with Mohamed VI, warning the situation had "markedly deteriorated" in the country.

And in Rabat, Bachir Ben Barka, son of a Moroccan dissident who vanished in Paris in 1965, said Saturday he hoped Sarkozy's visit would serve to "get closer to the truth" about the 40-year-old case.

An outspoken critic of the late monarch Hassan II, Mehdi Ben Barka disappeared without trace after being picked up by French police.

Mohamed VI agreed to reopen the case, which has implicated the Moroccan secret services, French intelligence and the criminal underworld, but the facts have yet to be fully elucidated.