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African Leaders Prepare for Franco-African Summit

African heads of states are preparing to meet later this week (Feb. 15-16) with officials from France and other European governments in Cannes at the annual Franco-African Summit. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West African bureau in Dakar.

More than 30 African heads of states are expected in France in the seaside resort of Cannes.

It is the last such summit hosted by two-term French President Jacques Chirac, who has cultivated close ties with African leaders during the past decade. While French officials have sought to assure African leaders their ties with France will remain close, some analysts say it will be hard to fill the void left by Mr. Chirac's departure

A researcher at the Paris-based National Center for Scientific Research, Roland Marchal, says Africa will lose a strong advocate on the world stage.

"He [Mr. Chirac] was always trying to keep Africa on the international agenda beyond his personal or France's interests. It is not so sure that Mr. Sarkozy or Madame Royal will share the same views," he said.

Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal are the early frontrunners in the upcoming French presidential election.

But Senegalese political and human rights analyst Ibrahima Kane says France does not mean as much to Africa as it once did.

"There is a new generation of Africans who are not going to France, whose reference is no longer France, whose reference is the U.S., Asia and who are doing their best to try to develop links with those two continents," said Kane. "I think these trends show that in the next 20 to 25 years, the situation will completely change, and that will impose on our leaders a change of policy."

Hundreds of African protesters, along with members of international non-profit organizations, who say the summit does little to help average Africans are also planning to be in Cannes.

Caroline Maurel, with Oxfam France, is one of the protesters. She says French politicians' support of African dictatorships has impoverished Africans.

"France is responsible [for] putting into place some of these dictators," she said. "If France promotes good governance and a different kind of cooperation, then Africa will be helped and the population will finally have a voice."

Several African leaders are not attending the heads of states' summit, including Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and South African President Thabo Mbeki and Guinea's president, Lansana Conte, who has declared a state of emergency in response to calls for his departure.

The presidents of Sudan, Chad and Central African Republic are scheduled to meet during the summit. Chad and Sudan's presidents have traded accusations that each country's rebels are fueling conflicts in the other country.

France has bilateral agreements with both Chad and the Central African Republic to help protect their governments against insurgencies.