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France's Fillon on Africa Tour, Boosting Ties


Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara walks with French Prime Minister Francois Fillon at the presidential palace in Abidjan, July 15, 2011

Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara walks with French Prime Minister Francois Fillon at the presidential palace in Abidjan, July 15, 2011

The French Prime Minister is in Ghana, the second stop in a West African tour designed to boost ties with the region.

Francois Fillon traveled to Ghana late Friday from Ivory Coast, where he met with President Alassane Ouattara and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro.

Speaking alongside Ouattara in Abidjan, Friday, Fillon pledged a new package of aid and debt relief and promised to remain Ivory Coast's top partner in reconstruction and development.

He said he brought a large delegation of French business leaders, saying Ivory Coast needs major help rebuilding its infrastructure and French companies have the "know-how." But he refuted accusations the former colonial power wanted to resume the exclusive partnership it had imposed in the past, saying France is prepared to compete with other entities for any contracts.

The French premier said this could be the beginning of a new era for Ivory Coast - once an economic leader in West Africa - after nearly a decade of internal strife under former President Laurent Gbagbo.

Relations between France and Ivory Coast were strained under Gbagbo, and the former colonial power backed Ouattara in the political crisis following disputed elections last year. France also offered military assistance, sending French troops to help Ouattara's supporters and the United Nations finally oust Gbagbo, who was refusing to step down despite U.N.-certified results showing he had lost the election.

After Ghana, Fillon's next and final stop on this Africa visit is oil-rich Gabon, which also shares close ties with its former colonial power.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.

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