France's Hollande tours Caucasus region in bid to boost ties
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French president François Hollande is launching a three-day diplomatic tour to the Caucasus region on Sunday, starting with the oil-rich country Azerbaijan.
Hollande is to meet President Ilham Aliyev in a bid to bolster European relations on Russia's southern doorstep amid the crisis in Ukraine.
The two leaders are expected to discuss business relations and energy development.
However, Moscow is expected to not view his trip to the ex-Soviet republic favourably.
Like Ukraine, all three countries have sought closer ties with Europe, with Georgia going as far as trying to join the NATO military alliance.
The trip also comes just days ahead of Azerbaijan taking up the rotating six-month presidency on Thursday of the Council of Europe, the international body that enforces the European convention on human rights.
But human rights groups are hoping Hollande’s visit broaches Azerbaijan’s own record in respecting civil liberties.
“It is an opportunity for the French president to raise human rights concerns behind closed doors as well as publically,” said Human Rights Watch researcher for Azerbaijan Giorgi Gogia. “Azerbaijan has been cracking down on its dissenters for several years now, arresting dozens of activists, journalists, civil society activists, as well as adopting restrictive legislative frameworks.”
In a recent letter to Hollande, Human Rights Watch referred to at least 30 political activists, journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders who received trumped up charges including ones relating to narcotics and weapons possession, hooliganism, incitement to violence, and treason.