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Foreign Office Minister visited Tunisia

In his third visit to Tunisia since the revolution, Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt underlined the UK’s support for Tunisia’s transition process.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

He also travelled to Sfax to meet with local business leaders and British investors.

In Tunis Mr Burt called on Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Rafik Abdessalem and Secretary of State for Europe Mr Touhami Abdouli. Mr Burt underlined the UK’s strong bilateral relationship with Tunisia, which would be further strengthened by the UK’s support for the democratic transition. The Ministers also discussed regional issues, including in North Africa, and Mr Burt welcomed the efforts Tunisia was making to bring together the countries of the Maghreb region. He also paid tribute to the personal efforts made by ordinary citizens in supporting their Libyan neighbours when they came as refugees last year. Mr Burt welcomed the Tunisia’s hosting of the first Friends of Syria meeting held in Tunis last month, and the Ministers agreed on the urgency and importance for the international community to unite to support a peaceful transition to democracy in Syria.

At the Ministry for Investment and International Co-operation Mr Burt met Secretary of State Mr Alaya Bettaieb. They agreed that Tunisia’s economic development was a top priority, for which international investment would be key. Mr Burt underlined that the UK was a long-term friend of Tunisia and a major economic partner with investors such as British Gas (BG). The UK would help also where possible with the important reforms Tunisia intended to take forward on the economy, particularly in areas of British expertise such as financial services, privatisation and education.

At the Constituent Assembly Mr Burt met the Speaker of Parliament Mr Mustapha Ben Jaafar, and was keen to learn about the plans for drafting the new constitution. Mr Burt offered UK expertise and emphasised our willingness for parliamentarians to exchange experience. The UK was funding several projects as part of its Arab Partnership Programme, including a project through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy focused on capacity building for the newly elected members and their officials. The UK would soon begin further projects to support political participation and strengthen civil society.

Mr Burt visited BG gas processing site near the city of Sfax, and saw for himself the major strategic investment the British company has made. Mr Burt also met the Governor of Sfax and other local officials and thanked them for their support in helping BG maintain its operations and ensure full access for employees of BG to their workplace despite the challenges of the post-revolution period. The Minister hosted a dinner with members of the local business community and civil society to learn about the experiences of people outside the capital, and to hear their views on the future of Tunisia.

Mr Burt stopped at El Jem see the opportunities for Tunisia’s tourism sector to develop, including through maximising the visibility of Tunisia’s Roman heritage. He was deeply impressed by the Coliseum and the Museum, and Mr Burt encouraged British tourists to see for themselves the rich culture and heritage of Tunisia.

Speaking on his departure, Mr Burt said:

“It was a great pleasure to return to Tunisia and see first-hand the developments of the past year. I took this opportunity to remind the Tunisian coalition government and others that the UK is a committed friend of the people of Tunisia, and we will continue to support Tunisia as it moves forward in the process of democratisation.

The world has watched with admiration as Tunisia has led the way in the Arab Spring and the path of democratisation. A year ago the people of Tunisia bravely rose up in the name of freedom and dignity against years of autocratic rule. Those freedoms fought for must now be enshrined in the new constitution so that the people of Tunisia can enjoy them for generations to come.

Seeing such beautiful sites as the coliseum of El Jem, and hearing first hand from local business people, I am confident that Tunisia has strong potential for new growth both in tourism and in business. It is firmly moving forwards. The UK wants to be a close friend and partner as it does so. “

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Published 15 March 2012