Ouattara signs new deal to keep French troops in Côte d'Ivoire
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Côte d'Ivoire counterpart Alassane Ouatarra have signed a joint security agreement which will keep French troops in the country, but reduce their number from 450 to 300 with a focus on training local forces.
The agreement, which comes on the second day of a visit by Ouattara to Paris, is the latest sign of a warming of relations between the two countries which worsened during the leadership of former President Laurent Gbagbo.
“It is a great pleasure to finally receive a democratically-elected president of Côte d'Ivoire after so many years,” Sarkozy said in a press conference after hour-long talks with Ouattara. “For ten years, Ivorians were deprived of elections and we were happy, under our UN mandate, to help re-establish peace.”
France was a key ally of Ouattara after former leader Gbagbo refused to stand down despite losing a November 2010 presidential election. Some 3,000 people died in the ensuing violence.
During his visit, Ouattara has called on the French business community to “come-back” to the country claiming growth is set to reach between 8-9 per cent this year.
Outside the oil sector, France is Côte d'Ivoire's largest trading partner and the biggest economy in French-speaking west Africa.
Ouatarra also wants France’s support in his appeal to the International Monetary Fund, IMF, to give the country Heavily Indebted Poor Country, HIPC, status which would mean it could rid itself of six billion dollars of debt and receive financial help from France to the tune of two million euros.
Tensions in Côte d'Ivoire linger, at least one person died at the weekend when a meeting in Abidjan of Gbagbo’s supporter was broken up by people described by some observers as Ouattara supporters.
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