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French President in Tunisia to Promote North African Relations

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is in Tunisia to sell a nuclear-power agreement and promote an alliance between the European Union, Middle Eastern and north African countries. Lisa Bryant reports for VOA from Paris he is also to address human-rights issues in the region.

President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to urge Tunisia to accept an agreement paving the way for France to build one or more nuclear reactors in the country. France has already concluded similar agreements with other North African countries, notably Algeria, Libya and Morocco.

France and Tunisia are also expected to discuss delivery of European Airbus planes to Tunis Air.

Mr. Sarkozy also plans to bring up his project for a new European-Mediterranean partnership that includes Middle Eastern and North African countries. France hosts a summit on the issue in July, when it takes over the rotating EU presidency.

Mr. Sarkozy is expected to address a more controversial subject, Tunisia's human-rights record. Tunisia has been severely criticized by several human-rights groups, including the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights.

Michael Tubiana is a past president of the International Federation.

He says many people hoped Tunisia's human-rights situation would improve when President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali took power in a peaceful 1987 coup. But Tubiana says 20 years later that has not happened. He says democracy exists in name only and human-rights groups are prevented from meeting in Tunisia.

Last week, the Tunisian government reportedly denied Tubiana entry to the country, where he had hoped to investigate the human-rights situation a year before presidential, parliamentary and local elections.

Mr. Ben Ali won the last presidential election in 2004, with almost 95 percent of the vote, according to Tunisia's electoral commission.

Tubiana says Mr. Sarkozy vowed to make human rights part of French foreign policy, during his presidential campaign last year. Now, Tubiana says he hopes the French leader will make good on his promise.