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France calls Tunisia an example for the Arab world

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BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA | July 4, 2013 01:09 PM EST | AP

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TUNIS, Tunisia — France's president hailed Tunisia's democratic transition as an example for the whole Arab world Thursday and promised political and economic support on his first official visit to the country.

Francois Hollande's two-day visit is an effort to restart relations with Tunisia that were strained from his predecessor's close ties to Zine Abidine Ben Ali, the dictator Tunisians deposed in January 2011. The Tunisian revolution sparked the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings across the region, including Egypt.

Hollande contrasted Tunisia's democratic progress with the military takeover in Egypt, which he called a failure in that country's democratic transition.

"What going on here in Tunisia is a transition that is controlled and organized," he said during a press conference with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki. "What is clear is there is also an obligation for you to succeed because you are an example, you give many people in the Arab world hope."

After overthrowing their dictator, Tunisians elected a long-repressed moderate Islamist party to power, which then ruled in a coalition with two secular parties and wrote a new constitution.

The rocky transition has been dogged by violence, assassination, a limping economy and social unrest, but a final draft of the constitution is now being debated by parliament.

Hollande headed a delegation of key ministers and dozens of businessmen to sign a string of cooperation agreements to boost bilateral ties and help Tunisia economically.

Since the revolution, the economy has suffered, forcing Tunisia to borrow abroad to make ends meet.

Holland announced 400 million euros in development loans and projects, as well as a grant of 800,000 euros.

International rights groups have called on Hollande to bring up issues of freedom of expression, including vaguely worded statutes against insulting public morals.

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Associated Press reporter Sylvie Corbet contributed to this report from Paris.