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Chirac Ends Mali Visit with Reassurances of Support - 2003-10-26

French president Jacques Chirac has left Mali, wrapping up a four-day tour of the region with promises of debt relief.

The French president made the visit to West Africa as a show of his nation's continued support for its impoverished former colonies.

Mr. Chirac spent two days in Niger and two days in Mali.

In his departing speech, Mr. Chirac made a promise to relieve Mali of debt repayments to France for a four-year period. Mr. Chirac also promised to petition other countries to work towards finding a solution that would give poorer nations a fairer deal.

Mali, one of the world's most impoverished countries, was one of five nations at the World Trade Organization summit at Cancun, Mexico, in September that called for the phasing out of subsidies on cotton.

Mali complains that its cotton producers are seeing their livelihoods destroyed because they cannot compete with the subsidized cotton prices.

The issue of cotton subsidies, although brought up, was not addressed at the Cancun Summit, and cotton producers were left angry and disappointed.

As well as making commitments to assist Mali, Mr. Chirac made it clear that France was committed to tackling illegal immigration, which is proving a problem for his own country.

Thousands of Malians have left the country to try to find work overseas. According to official figures, 40,000 of them now live in France, but the real figure is thought to be much higher.

Working toward building the domestic economy, said Mr. Chirac, would be a step toward encouraging Malians to stay and work in their home country.