US Secretary of State Colin Powell continued on Wednesday a tour of North Africa to muster support for Washington's "war on terrorism" with stops in Morocco and Algeria.
Powell, who arrived in Marrakesh late Tuesday, was expected to meet on Wednesday with King Mohammed VI and Prime Minister Driss Jettou before heading for Algiers.
Powell was received in Marrakesh airport by the Moroccan Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Essa. The US Secretary of State is accompanied by the Assistant secretary of state for Middle East affairs William Burns, and the Secretary of state for public affairs Richard Boucher.
The US top diplomat said he would discuss with King Mohammed VI the conflict over the Western Sahara, where the Polisario Front has waged a long struggle for independence.
Powell began his trip to the region with a call for Tunisia to allow political reform and a free press.
Powell, the highest ranking US official to visit the country in almost a decade, told journalists Tunisia needed to focus on "political reform".
Tunisia "has accomplished a lot and it is for that reason that people are still expecting more to happen with respect to political reform," he said.
He added that he had encouraged Tunisian leaders to institute reforms in order to provide more opportunity for its people, but again he did not specifically refer to accusations by rights organisations and the state department that the government curbs the press.
"We also talked about the need for an open press, open media. I had a good, candid conversation, with the president, that Tunisia has accomplished so much, that people are expecting more to happen with respect to political reform and with respect to openness in the society," he said.
"He (Ben Ali) said he is committed to that, said he wanted to move at a pace that he believes was consistent with the aspirations and desires and expectations of the Tunisian people.
Additionally, Powell said the US and Tunisia had "an excellent partnership" in fighting "terrorism" and in seeking a settlement to the Middle East conflict.
Powell's visit to the region comes days before a Summit scheduled to be held in Tunisia, including the participation of leaders of Morocco, Algeria,
Mauritania, Libya, Tunisia, France, Spain, Italy, and Malta, to discuss security issues and "combating terror".
Following his North Africa tour, Powell is expected to visit Brussels to take part in the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting. (Albawaba.com)
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