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France: Tunisia an example for the Arab world

France’s president on Thursday hailed Tunisia’s democratic transition as an example for the whole Arab world and promised political and economic support on his first official visit to the country.

François Hollande’s two-day visit is an effort to restart relations with Tunisia, which were strained from his predecessor’s close ties to Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the dictator whom Tunisians deposed in January 2011. The Tunisian revolution sparked the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings across the region, including in Egypt.

Hollande contrasted Tunisia’s democratic progress with the military takeover in Egypt, which he called a failure in that country’s democratic transition.

“What’s going on here in Tunisia is a transition that is controlled and organized,” he said during a news conference with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki. “What is clear is there is also an obligation for you to succeed, because you are an example. You give many people in the Arab world hope.”

After overthrowing their dictator, Tunisians elected a long-repressed moderate Islamist party to power, which then ruled in a coalition with two secular parties and wrote a new constitution.

The rocky transition has been dogged by violence, assassination, a limping economy and social unrest, but a final draft of the constitution is now being debated by parliament.

Hollande headed a delegation of key ministers and dozens of businessmen to sign a string of cooperation agreements to boost bilateral ties and help Tunisia economically.

Since the revolution, the economy has suffered, forcing Tunisia to borrow abroad.

Holland announced 400 million euros in development loans and projects as well as a grant of 800,000 euros.

International rights groups have called on Hollande to bring up issues of freedom of expression, including Tunisia’s vaguely worded statutes against insulting public morals.

— Associated Press

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