France seals nuclear, aid deals with Tunisia

Thu Apr 23, 2009 9:39pm BST

TUNIS, April 23 (Reuters) - France concluded a nuclear cooperation deal and an 80 million-euro ($104.2 million) aid package for Tunisia during a visit by its prime minister to the country, the two governments said on Thursday.

The deal to help Tunisia develop civil nuclear technology was struck a year ago during a visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and was accompanied by agreements on industrial cooperation and transport, Tunisian state news agency TAP said.

It follows similar atomic energy deals with Algeria, Libya and Morocco and will help Tunisia develop its first nuclear power station by 2020, producing 900 megawatts of electricity, the equivalent of 20 percent of the country's energy needs.

Loans and grants signed off on Thursday will bolster drinking water and irrigation projects, migration management and support for job training and business starts in Tunisia, French government finance agency AFD said in a statement.

Premier Francois Fillon is accompanied by 70 executives from French companies during his two-day official visit.

He will meet Tunisian President Zine al Abidine Ben Ali on Friday to discuss bilateral ties and the Union for the Mediterranean launched by Sarkozy last year, diplomatic sources said.

France is Tunisia's biggest trading partner and its top foreign investor outside the oil sector, according to the French embassy Web site.

There are 1,200 French firms in the country out of a total of 3,000 foreign companies. Trade flows between France and its former colony grew to 7.2 billion euros last year from 7 billion euros in 2007.

Sarkozy visited Tunisia a year ago and dismissed concerns over its human rights record, portraying its counter-terrorism efforts as a bulwark against the emergence of a "Taliban-type" regime in north Africa. (Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Charles Dick)