Source AP ©

French and Moroccan officials sign deals

French and Moroccan officials signed deals on extracting Moroccan uranium to meet the growing world appetite for nuclear power and bringing high-speed trains to North Africa, during a visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The deals were signed Monday night soon after French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Marrakech on his first state visit. Sarkozy was expected to give a speech in the northern port city of Tangiers on Tuesday laying out his proposal for a Mediterranean Union.

The idea is modeled on a precursor to the European Union and would encourage cooperation and trade by breaking down barriers between southern Europe and northern Africa. Critics charge Sarkozy is using the bid to boost French business in former colonies and keep Turkey out of the EU by offering a Mediterranean alliance instead.

French and Moroccan officials signed a string of cooperation accords, including an accord for a EUR1.8 billion (US$2.5 billion) bullet train connecting Tangiers with Casablanca, Morocco's economic hub. The train is to be operational in 2013, the head of Morocco's National Railway office, Rabie Khlie, told the official MAP news agency.

French nuclear manufacturer Areva and OCP, a Moroccan conglomerate of mining and chemical industries, signed a deal to develop cooperation and research in the field of natural uranium, Areva said in a statement Tuesday.

The deal comes as several countries are looking to build nuclear reactors - including Morocco - to meet growing energy needs.

Areva, which is benefiting from this boom, is seeking to expand its sources of uranium after losing its monopoly on uranium in Niger this summer amid competition from China and other countries.

Sarkozy's three-day visit, including several French government ministers and dozens of French executives, was a sign of the weight Morocco and France place on their ties.

Sarkozy told the official MAP news agency that he sees the Muslim kingdom as "a pillar of the Mediterranean Union." He was to speak to the new Moroccan parliament in Rabat on Tuesday.

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