French President Emmanuel Macron opened a two-day visit to Tunisia on Wednesday by announcing a fund to boost youth employment in the North African nation, a budding democracy that is struggling economically while contending with Islamic extremists.
It is Macron’s first state visit since taking office last May, underscoring the importance of the trip for both sides.
The trip comes seven years after Tunisia’s autocratic leader was chased from power, inspiring the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions. Unlike other countries whose rulers fell, Tunisia escaped major violence but has faced a series of deadly terror attacks, a lagging economy and recent food riots.
Macron announced an additional 500 million euros ($620 million) to a 1.2 billion-euro plan for sustainable development extending from 2016 to 2020. And in a gesture to the youth of Tunisia, at least 30 percent of them jobless, the French president announced the creation of a 50 million-euro ($62 million) fund to spur initiatives by young entrepreneurs.
Angry, unemployed youth fueled days of riots this month after by price hikes were imposed to reduce the country’s deficit, a reminder of the social and economic challenges facing Tunisia.
Macron, traveling with a delegation of business leaders and cultural figures, will speak Thursday before parliament to affirm French support for Tunisia’s democratic transition as a model of hope for the Muslim world.
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi praised the two nations’ deepening relationship.
“This visit constitutes a new beginning for the relationship between Tunisia and France,” he said.
An accord on French-Tunisian ties in the economic, security, judicial, cultural and educational spheres was being signed.
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