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FRANCE- AUSTRALIA

Hollande begins historic Australia visit

French President Hollande signs a guestbook in front of the Sydney Opera House on Tuesday.
French President Hollande signs a guestbook in front of the Sydney Opera House on Tuesday. REUTERS/Jason Reed

This is the first time that a French President is on an official visit Down Under.

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Strengthening ties between the two countries almost two decades after nuclear tests in the South Pacific that sparked fierce criticism of Paris would be on top of Hollande’s agenda.

Hollande, who was welcomed with a 21-gun salute in parklands on Sydney
Harbour, said that his visit was also designed to underline France's presence in the
Pacific and it’s intention to remain there.

During his two-day visit, Hollande, who is leading a major business delegation, will try to boost economic relations with Australia.

"We are in a position where we can have closer and further economic ties," Hollande told the Australian Business Council.

"What I am saying is we need to push our aspirations further," he added, describing French companies such as satellite giant Arianespace as at the "forefront of technology".

Relations suffered during nuclear testing in Polynesia in the 1990s and the sinking by French agents of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland in 1985 as it prepared to lead protests around Mururoa Atoll.

However Australia and France signed a strategic partnership in January 2012 and have worked closely on Afghanistan, Syria and Iran.

Hollande's delegation includes heads of the country's leading companies such as Vinci construction, SNCF, defence specialists Thales and Safran, energy giants GDF Suez, and global luxury house LVMH.

Hollande said his two-day Australia state visit would also highlight "the presence of France in the Pacific Ocean region.

"We are in fact neighbours since France is present in Polynesia, the Wallis and Futuna islands and New Caledonia," he said.

"We want to remain present in this area for reasons of stability, of security and also for future development."

The French President is due to meet Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday when he would also lay a wreath at Australia's War Memorial.

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