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Macron praises Tunisia's 'cultural revolution' during two-day visit

media Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (R) welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron (C) following his arrival at Presidential Palace in Carthage on Wednesday AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron hailed Tunisia's "cultural revolution" since the 2011 Arab Spring in Tunis on the second day of a two-day visit during which he promised France would double investments in the country between now and 2022.

"You have carried out a real cultural revolution and you have succeeded and I want to pay you special homage you," Macron told the Tunisian parliament on Thursday.

The country that was the launch-pad of the Arab Spring has "given the lie to those who say that societies where Islam is present are not compatible with democracy", as well as to those who "believe Islam exists to rule over the state", he went on.

Gender equality, education and civil society are ramparts against terrorism and fundamentalism, Macron said.

An agreement to improve cooperation in fighting terrorism has been signed during his visit.

During Macron's visit the NGO Human Rights Watch issued a statement alleging police brutality during January's sometimes-violent demonstrations over the cost of living and unemployment.

Macron refused to criticise his hosts, saying that democracies, even imperfect ones, cannot be "reduced to the same level as despots and tyrants during a joint press conference with Tunisia's 91-year-old President Béji Caïd Essebsi on Wednesday.

Debt, aid and investment

But he did declared that a "political, economic and social spring" is needed and announced that a number of French companies have already committed to investments in Tunisia, promising that total French investment in the country will double during his term of office.

Macron announced the creation of a 50-million-euro fund to help young Tunisian entrepreneurs and a 100-million-euro sovereign debt to help reform Tunisian state-owned companies.

Following the conversion of 60 million euros-worth of debt in January 2016, a further 30 million euros are to be converted.

Tunisia's left-wing opposition called on France to scrap the whole of the one-billion-euro debt and allow Tunisian nationals free entry to its territory, accusing Paris of "continuing its policy of domination and interference in the affairs of countries in the region".

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