Italy's economic ties and traditionally friendly links with Tunisia just across the Mediterranean were expected to get a boost from a state visit here by Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi starting Monday October 28.
Officials here stress the two-day stay was an opportunity to "consolidate very old ties of friendship and develop the Tunisian-Italian partnership which has been enjoying remarkable dynamism."
Ciampi and Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali were also scheduled to discuss the current Middle East situation and broader global picture following terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said Italy would stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the United States in its war on terrorism. The Tunisian Red Crescent has already sent $55,000 (62,000 euros) worth of relief aid for Afghan refugees and urged Tunisians to give money to help Palestinians.
The Afghanistan aid was to "ease the suffering of innocent Afghan civilians and help them cope with the difficult humanitarian situation their country is up against because of the war," the official Tunisian TAP news agency said.
Italy is Tunisia's closest neighbor on the northern side of the Mediterranean. It is the second biggest foreign investor in Tunisia and second largest trading partner after France. Bilateral trade was worth over four billion dinars ($2.8 billion, 3.1 billion euros) in 2000.
Earlier this month, the two countries signed an accord for Italy to grant Tunisia a credit line worth 289.5 billion lire ($133 million, 150 million euros), as part of a three-year cooperation agreement.
The Ciampi visits was expected to confirm a greater opening by Tunisia towards Italy. Tunis has in recent years sought to balance out links with traditional European partners, among whom the former colonial power France has always taken first place. Relations between Italy and Tunisia have improved in the last three years following the settlement of disputes over fishing rights and immigration.
Tunisia has been given financial and technical assistance by Rome to curb illegal emigration to Italy. The two have also agreed an annual quota of Tunisian seasonal workers in Italy. Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero said here earlier this month that Italy would help set up a higher education institute for technology and the media in Tunisia and a scientific development center aided by Italian universities.
More than 450 Italian firms are represented in Tunisia, employing about 30,000 people. The only countries to send more tourists to Tunisia than Italy are Germany and France. — (AFP, Tunis)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )