Sarkozy flies to Tunisia to push business, Mediterranean Union

Other News Materials 28 April 2008 17:55 (UTC +04:00)

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was expected to arrive later Monday in the Tunisian capital Tunis to begin a three- day state visit during which he will push French business interests and try to shore up support for his plan for a Union for the Mediterranean, dpa reported.

Sarkozy will be accompanied by his wife, Carla, seven ministers and the heads of some 120 companies, underscoring the economic importance of relations between the two countries.

France is by far Tunisia's most important trading partner, with bilateral commerce reaching some 7 billion euros (10.94 billion dollars) in 2007.

A number of deals, worth about 2 billion euros, are expected to be finalized Monday evening, between Sarkozy's meeting with Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and a scheduled state dinner.

The contracts to be signed include the sale of Airbus aircraft to Tunisian carrier Tunisair and for the construction of a conventional power station by the French firm Alstom at Ghannouch, in southern Tunisia.

Sarkozy's proposal for a Union for the Mediterranean, which is to comprise the 27 EU member nations and countries situated along the Mediterranean rim, will be the main issue of bilateral discussions.

One sore point between the two nations is the question of human rights under Ben Ali.

On Saturday, two editors for the opposition weekly al-Mawkef said they would go on an unlimited hunger strike to protest what they called the government's harassment of their publication.

Sarkozy's office said that the French president would raise human rights issues both in his talks with Ben Ali and in his public declarations.