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DIPLOMACY

Hollande in Morocco to strengthen ties

President François Hollande has arrived in Morocco amid an explosive tax fraud scandal in France that has overshadowed his landmark two-day visit to the former French colony.

Hollande in Morocco to strengthen ties
French president François Hollande (left) dining with Moroccan King Mohammed VI (centre) and Hollande's partner Valerie Trierweiler, in Casablanca on April 3rd. Photo: Abdeljalil Bounhar/AFP
Hollande, who was welcomed by King Mohammed VI in Casablanca, has sought to limit the fallout from the scandal and insisted before leaving Paris that ex-budget minister Jerome Cahuzac who was charged in a tax fraud probe "did not benefit from any protection".
 
In a square in the city centre, Hollande was greeted by a cheering but sparse Moroccan crowd amid rain and occasional thunder, before heading to the royal palace for talks with the king.
 
At the palace, dozens of cooperation accords were signed by ministers and business leaders, notably in the transport, agriculture, education and renewable energy sectors.
 
Later, Hollande inaugurated a pilot water purifying plant in Casablanca, Morocco's largest city, built by an affiliate of French utility firm GDF Suez and capable of treating 3,800 cubic metres of water daily.
 
Speaking to the French community in Casablanca afterwards, the president laid the emphasis firmly on "consolidating the friendship" and "confirming the ties" between the two countries, making only oblique reference to the political crisis in France.
 
He is due to hold a news conference in Rabat on Thursday evening at the end of his visit, after meeting Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane and addressing parliament.
 
"He will use this forum to speak on the main issues" in the region, including Syria, Mali, the Arab Spring and Middle East peace process, said a source travelling with him.
 
Hollande is likely to emphasize that "Morocco has found the right path, is going in the right direction, in the context of the Arab Spring, which offers much potential but also brings risks," according to a French diplomat.
 
He will also hail "the very clear position" of the king in favour of the French intervention in Mali, expressed at an Islamic summit in Cairo in early February.
 
Morocco was upset that the president chose to visit its arch north African rival Algeria on his first visit to the French-speaking region three months ago.
 
But the page has since been turned in French-Moroccan relations, which Paris has described as "intense and fluid," stressing Hollande's good rapport with the king, who was the first head of state he received on becoming president.
 
Human Rights Watch has urged the French leader to press Moroccan officials about "persistent" rights abuses in the kingdom, including torture in detention, unfair military trials, curbs on press freedom and the exploitation of child domestic workers.
 
On the Western Sahara, the ex-Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1975 in a move not recognized by the international community, France continues to support Rabat's proposal of autonomy under its sovereignty as a "serious and credible basis" for talks, and seeks a negotiated solution brokered by the UN.
 
Algeria-backed Polisario Front separatists, who are demanding that Sahrawis be allowed to vote in a referendum on self-determination, called on Tuesday for France to revise its position.

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DIPLOMACY

France: We must work with Italy to solve diplomatic spat

The French Interior Minister said France and Italy "had to" work together on security issues, two months after a diplomatic spat led to Paris briefly recalling its ambassador.

France: We must work with Italy to solve diplomatic spat
Photo: AFP

Relations between the two countries fractured in February following repeated clashes with Italy's populist coalition government.

Paris was incensed when Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio made a surprise visit to France on February 5th to meet a group of radical “yellow vest” protesters who have led demonstrations against France's centrist President Emmanuel Macron.

READ ALSO What's behind Italy's spat with France?


Christophe Castaner arriving for the meeting i Paris on Thursday. Photo: AFP

France's Interior Minister Christophe Castaner and his Italian counterpart Matteo Salvini met at a meeting of G7 interior ministers in Paris on Thursday.

“I think I can say that the issues of combating illegal immigration or terrorism should not divide us…. We cannot deal with these issues on our own,” Castaner said after a meeting with Salvini.

“When we talk about real life, concrete things, there is no room for arguments, we have to agree,” Salivini added, at a separate news conference.

The Italian minister said he was no longer interested in the “past” and highlighted areas of agreement between the two countries, particularly on the management of the Franco-Italian border.

Salvini said France and Italy had a “common position… on defending external borders” and that France – as Italy had already done – was ready to provide “boats, men and equipment to the Libyan coastguard”.

Castaner, however, was more vague, simply saying G7 ministers had agreed “to strengthen our support for Libya and Morocco through the presence of coastguards”.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in February that a “line was crossed” with Di Maio's visit, which was organised without French authorities being informed.

Analysts and diplomats said relations were affected by the fundamentally different outlooks of Macron, a pro-European centrist, and the eurosceptic government in Rome.

There are also deep-running economic tensions, competition for influence in Libya, and a sense in Italy that France has done little to help its neighbour cope with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants in recent years.

The last time Paris recalled its ambassador to Rome was during the World War II when Italy under leader Benito Mussolini invaded France in 1940.

Foreign ministers from the G7 – the United States, Italy, France, Canada, Germany, Britain and Japan – are to meet on Friday and Saturday in the northern French resort of Dinard.

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