France - Morocco

Sarkozy in Tangiers for Africa's first high-speed rail

(Photo : Reuters)

French President Nicolas Sarkozy visits Morocco on Thursday to mark the start of work on Africa's first high-speed rail line, following up on a deal signed in December with the French company Alstom.

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An agreement on the construction and operation of a 350 kilometre high-speed rail line linking Tangiers and Casablanca via the capital, Rabat, was signed during Sarkozy's 2007 visit to Morocco.

He vowed then that he would return to the country to help lay down the first stone when  building work began.

The line is scheduled to be in service by 2015, and it's hoped it will eventually be extended to Marrakesh and Agadir.

Alstom is to provide Morocco with 14 high-speed trains under its 400 million euro deal, a contract seen as a boost for the company after Eurostar signed to buy trains from rival German company, Siemens.

Rabat says it expects the first leg of the rail-line to cost three billion euros, for which France has extended a 920 million euro loan.

The balance of the rail project is being funded mostly by Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

France is Morocco's biggest trading partner, absorbing 25 per cent of the country's export.

During his visit to Morocco, Sarkozy will also meet King Mohammed VI, who has been praised by some commentators for his handling of demands for political reform in the kingdom.

The King proposed a series of measures reducing his executive powers in response to protests inspired by the Arab Spring in nearby Tunisia, though some activists insist the proposals are not far-reaching enough.

 

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