Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki vowed on Tuesday to guarantee ex-strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali security and a fair trial as he visited France in a bid to restore strained ties.
At a joint press conference with French President Francois Hollande, Marzouki said he could guarantee "physical security" and "a fair trial" for Ben Ali, who is in exile in Saudi Arabia after he was toppled in a popular uprising last year.
Marzouki said Tunisia wanted to regain all the assets allegedly embezzled by Ben Ali, as Hollande said France was ready to help Tunisia recover those being held outside France.
Hollande told Marzouki that France would "stand at your side" in Tunisia's transition, as the Tunisian leader said the country had been transformed since its revolution.
"Tunisia is in the process of breaking free... It has a chance of real economic development, but beyond all these achievements Tunisia has regained its pride and its dignity," Marzouki said.
Marzouki arrived in France Tuesday for a three-day visit aimed at rebuilding close links between Tunisia and its former colonial ruler that were strained during the revolution.
Keen to win diplomatic support and maintain strong trade relations, Marzouki was to meet top officials and on Wednesday address the National Assembly -- the first foreign leader to do so since 2006.
Ahead of his visit, Marzouki told AFP he was hoping to erase tensions over France's slow and confused response to the popular revolt.
"Tunisians did not appreciate the attitude of former French governments who had given a certain support to the dictatorship," Marzouki told AFP in an interview in Tunisia.
The previous governments of presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy fostered close ties with Ben Ali's regime and ministers in Sarkozy's administration sparked anger in Tunisia by failing to immediately back the uprising, the first of the revolts that became known as the Arab Spring.
Just days before Ben Ali's fall, then foreign minister Michele Alliot-Marie shocked Tunisian democrats by suggesting France could help train Tunisia's hated security forces to help them better control the popular uprising.
Alliot-Marie was later forced to resign following revelations linking her family to a businessman allegedly close to Ben Ali's regime who had provided her with free flights during a December holiday while the uprising was under way.
"You will remember the verbal mistakes of certain French ministers during the revolution. This left an impression in Tunisia. This is an impression I would like to erase," Marzouki told AFP.
France is Tunisia's largest trading partner and some 600,000 Tunisians live on French territory.
More than 1,200 French businesses operate in Tunisia and trade last year rose to 7.6 billion euros ($9.4 billion) from 6.9 billion euros in 2010.
After his address to the National Assembly and a meeting with Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Wednesday, Marzouki was to head to the southern city of Marseille on Thursday to meet local officials and members of the Tunisian community.
Source: AFP Global Edition