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CUBA - FRANCE

Hollande calls for swift end to US Cuba sanctions as Raul Castro visits Paris

There was pomp and ceremony - but only a small audience - for Raul Castro at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Monday
There was pomp and ceremony - but only a small audience - for Raul Castro at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Monday Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

French President, François Hollande, has called for a rapid end to US sanctions on Cuba during a historic visit to Paris by President Raul Castro. After giving the 84-year-old leader a warm welcome at the Elysée presidential palace, Hollande said that the US President Barak Obama must end a "Cold War" practise.

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"This embargo, the blockade must be scrapped," Hollande said at a press conference after meeting Castro on Monday. "President Obama, who has taken things forward, must, as he himself has said, follow through and bring an end to this vestige of the Cold War."

France has led the way in bringing the Communist-ruled Caribbean island back into the diplomatic and economic mainstream, since Havana restored relations with Washington last year.

France has agreed to further Cuba's debt relief, converting 200 million euros of debt into an investment fund.

The government will also set up a Franco-Cuban fund of 212 million euros to encourage French companies to invest in Cuba.

Hollande said that "no subject, either political or economic" had been avoided in the meeting but made no comments at the press conference on Cuba's human rights record, which regularly comes under fire from some NGOs.

The trip to France is the first by a Cuban head of state since Fidel Castro visited then president Francois Mitterrand in 1995.

Castro was given full military honours on Paris's Champs Elysées avenue before the meeting with Hollande with a procession led by the Republican Guard on horseback.

Apart from a few handpicked supporters of the Cuban government, however, few people witnessed the parade, the army having closed access to the area beforehand.

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