PARIS, July 17, 2012 (AFP) -
PARIS, July 17, 2012 (AFP) –
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki arrives in France on Tuesday for a visit aimed at rebuilding strained ties with the country’s former colonial ruler in the wake of its popular revolution.
Keen to win diplomatic support and maintain strong trade relations, Marzouki meets President Francois Hollande on Tuesday and on Wednesday will address the National Assembly — the first foreign leader to do so since European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in 2006.
Ahead of his visit, Marzouki told AFP he was hoping to erase tensions over France’s slow and confused response to the popular revolt, which saw Tunisia’s ex-strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ousted amid street protests last year.
“Tunisians did not appreciate the attitude of former French governments who had given a certain support to the dictatorship,” Marzouki told AFP in an interview in Tunisia.
The previous governments of presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy fostered close ties with Ben Ali’s regime and ministers in Sarkozy’s administration sparked anger in Tunisia by failing to immediately back the uprising.
Just days before Ben Ali’s fall, then foreign minister Michele Alliot-Marie shocked Tunisian democrats by suggesting France could help train Tunisia’s hated security forces to help them better control the popular uprising.
Alliot-Marie was later forced to resign following revelations linking her family to a businessman allegedly close to Ben Ali’s regime who had provided her with free plane rides during a December holiday while the uprising was under way.
“You will remember the verbal mistakes of certain French ministers during the revolution. This left an impression in Tunisia. This is an impression I would like to erase,” Marzouki said.
France is Tunisia’s largest trading partner and some 600,000 Tunisians live on French territory.
More than 1,200 French businesses operate in Tunisia and trade last year rose to 7.6 billion euros ($9.4 billion) from 6.9 billion euros in 2010.
Marzouki, a longtime dissident who spent a third of his life in France, was to arrive in Paris Tuesday afternoon and then meet Hollande, with the two holding a joint press conference around 1715 GMT.
After his address to the National Assembly and meeting Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Wednesday, Marzouki will head to the southern city of Marseille on Thursday to meet local officials and members of the Tunisian community.