France and Tunisia negotiate to boost trade

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, speaking to reporters after their talks, did not address the sensitive topics of a stiff new French immigration law and continued French concerns about media freedom and human rights in Tunisia, a former French colony.

Villepin called the talks "fruitful and turned toward the future." Ghannouchi said the talks were "friendly and convivial."

Trade between the countries was Ђ5.3 billion (US$6.7 billion) last year. More than 1,000 French firms have a presence in Tunisia, accounting for 40 percent of the foreign direct investment in the country.

Ghannouchi was expected to seek French investment in high-speed Internet lines, road construction, a deep-water port and an electricity plant, according to Les Echos business daily Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a coalition of human rights groups wrote a letter to Villepin urging him to question the Tunisian premier on human rights, accusing the Tunisian government of harassing rights activists and pressuring businesses to refuse to host a human rights conference in Tunis later this month, the AP reports.

A report on press freedom worldwide, released Wednesday by Reporters Without Borders, said Tunisia was among the governments that "exert absolute control over information."

Relations between Tunisia and France have been strained over a French law last year that cited the "positive role" of colonialism, and over a law introduced Tuesday that would make it much harder to obtain residency in France.

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