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Africa

Hollande to make first French president's visit to Cuba during five-day Caribbean tour

media French President Francois Hollande on Thursday before leaving for the Caribbean Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

President François Hollande headed for the West Indies on Friday for a five-day tour during which he will make the first-ever visit by a French leader to Cuba as well as going to Haiti and France's territories in the region.

Hollande will be the first French president to visit Cuba since independence in 1898.

He will be accompanied by bosses of companies like Pernod Ricard, Air France and Accor, anxious to profit from the economic effects of the thaw in relations between the Washington and Havana.

France has voted against an embargo on Cuba at the UN since 1991, French officials were anxious to point out on Friday.

Hollande will then head to Haiti for the first official visit by a French leader since its independence - from France - in 1804, although his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, touched down there for several hours after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

Before all that, Hollande was due in the French territories of Saint-Barthélemy, Saint Martin and Martinique.

In Martinique he was to chair a conference on climate change, attended by leaders from the region, which contributes just 0.3 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases but is suffering the effects of global warming in rising sea levels and hurricanes.

The meeting is part of the run-up to the international conference on climate change to be held in Paris at the end of the year.

In Guadeloupe Hollande is to inaugurate what's billed as the world's biggest memorial to slavery at a ceremony attended by Senegal's President Macky Sall, Mali's Ibrahim Bouboucar Keïta and Benin's Thomas Boni Yayi.

The building has proved controversial, both for its design, which is very modern, and its cost - 80 million euros on an island with over 26 per cent unemployment.

Several local campaign groups and lawyers have launched legal claims for compensation for the effects of slavery on a population, the majority of which is descended from Africans transported across the globe to work on colonial plantations.

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