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W. African Leaders Discuss Economic Integration

West African heads of state are meeting in Niger to discuss boosting economic integration.

Niger's president, Mamadou Tandja, opened the one-day summit Saturday in the capital, Niamey, calling for more economic integration to ensure regional stability.

Seven heads of state then went behind closed doors for discussions with their finance ministers.

The summit is for the West African Economic and Monetary Union of mainly French-speaking countries. The grouping, with a total population of about 70 million people, was founded 10 years ago.

All eight member countries in the grouping share the CFA Franc currency, which is pegged to the euro.

Mali's finance minister, Bassary Toure, says the group is trying to promote greater freedom of movement within each country and between them, as well as developing common projects.

"We are strongly committed to building a strong regional economy," he said. "We are trying to have projects in common, infrastructure, agriculture and all kind of common projects. And, that's the way to go, because our national economies are very narrow. So, we have to boost this together."

Mr. Toure says the group also would like to build closer ties with a similar group, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, which was founded in 1975. All members of the West African Economic and Monetary Union are part of ECOWAS, which also includes English-speaking countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia.

Many participants Saturday also welcomed a request made Friday by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to deploy several thousand more peacekeepers in Ivory Coast, which is divided between a rebel-held north and the government-run south. Mr. Annan says the deployment will help move along a stalled peace process.

Prior to the start of its civil war, cocoa and coffee-producing Ivory Coast accounted for 60 percent of exports in the CFA Franc economic zone. Much of that has been disrupted by the country's division.