Sarkozy denies support for Chad's Deby proof Africa policy unchanged

(dpa) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in an interview published Thursday in South Africa, denied that France's support for Chadian President Idriss Deby during a recent uprising proved France was still "policing" francophone Africa.

Speaking to The Star newspaper ahead of his arrival in South Africa on a state visit Thursday morning with his new wife, former supermodel Carla Bruni, Sarkozy said France's position in support of the "legal authorities of Chad" was "perfectly in keeping with the position taken by the African Union."

"Contrary to what might have occurred in the past the French troops stationed in Chad did not take part in the fighting," he pointed out.

"France has no call to play a policing role in Africa," Sarkozy added, saying he would outline "new directions" in France's military presence in Africa in a later address to South Africa's parliament.

Sarkozy's visit to South Africa, Africa's largest economy, coming just nine months into his presidency is seen as evidence of his desire to boost relations with English-speaking African countries, neglected by his predecessors.

The French leader will hold talks with President Thabo Mbeki, address a joint sitting of both houses parliament and attend a banquet in his honour hosted by Mbeki in Cape Town.

He and Bruni are also scheduled to meet former president Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg Friday before capping the two-day state visit - Bruni's first official overseas visit as First Lady - with a private holiday. The Star reported the two were planning to stay at a game lodge.

Sarkozy is being accompanied to by around 40 heads of French companies, including the CEOs of French nuclear giant Areva which is bidding to build two nuclear reactors in South Africa and electricity utility EDF.

South Africa has said France is well-placed to help dig it out of a crippling energy crisis caused by power shortages.

"I would like in general for French firms to be more established in South Africa," Sarkozy told The Star.

Sarkozy, in the interview, defended the European Union over new two-way free-trade agreements being negotiated with African countries, which South Africa has fiercely resisted as too demanding on Africa.

"Europe remains the most open market in the world for African products," he noted.

Sarkozy's African tour began Wednesday in Chad where he met with President Idriss Deby, whom French troops helped put down a revolt by Sudanese-backed rebels earlier this month.

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