Sarkozy in Shanghai for World Expo opening
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy are in Shanghai for the opening of the World Expo after meeting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing. In the capital Sarkozy toured the Forbidden City, the ancient imperial palace near Tiananmen Square, as part of his visit aimed at reinvigorating Sino-French relations.
Sarkozy and his wife then flew to the commercial capital Shanghai, home to almost 9,000 French expats, arriving around 14:30 local time (06:00 GMT).
He was to inaugurate the French pavilion, described as the “Sensual City”, which gives visitors the opportunity to experience the “sights, smells, tastes, sounds and feel of France”. It was designed by architect Jacques Ferrier, with actor Alain Delon acting as its patron, and has already been attracting up to 6,000 visitors per hour.
The French president will be joined by 20 other heads of state for the opening ceremony on Friday evening, with a large firework display on the riverfront.
A total of 189 countries will be represented at the six-month event, with up to 100 million visitors expected to attend.
“The Shanghai World Expo will enhance the friendship and exchanges among people worldwide," Yang Xiong, deputy mayor of Shanghai, said during the ceremony.
Sarkozy’s presence is intended to help breathe new life into relations with China which hit a low point in 2008. The French leader had expressed shock over a crackdown in Tibet in March and later met the Dalai Lama. There were also strong anti-Chinese protests in Paris during the Olympic torch relay.
During a press conference Sarkozy said China was a “strategic partner” and said he would work with Chinese President Hu Jintao on a number of issues including the Iranian nuclear problem and worldwide financial reform.
The French head of state offered his condolences following mid-April’s earthquake in Qinghai province and underlined that this was his second state visit to the country.
Shanghai’s Expo is already culminating a number of records, according to RFI’s Shanghai correspondent Delphine Sureau.
“The site is four times bigger than the last exposition in Japan,” she says. “It is also the
first time the exposition has come to a country on the route of development.”
Earlier in the week Sarkozy visited the terracotta warriors in Xian, climbed the Great Wall and went to the Ming Tombs.
He is expected to return to France on Friday after the opening ceremony.