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September 26, 2017

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Investors pledge billions in support for Tunisia's ailing economy

TUNIS -- Tunisia won pledges of billions of dollars in support on Tuesday at an investment conference aimed at reviving the country's economy following its Arab Spring revolution.

Nearly six years after dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled, Tunis hopes the meeting will help it tackle challenges including high unemployment, low growth and a tourism sector battered by jihadist attacks.

The two-day "Tunisia 2020" conference aims to put the North African nation "back on the investment map of the Mediterranean," officials said.

"Tunisia faces exceptional circumstances and needs exceptional support," said 90-year-old President Beji Caid Essebsi.

"The success of the democratic project in Tunisia ... serves the interests of the region and can help strengthen security and stability regionally and globally," he said ahead of attending an EU-Tunisia summit in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday.

More than 2,000 business, finance and political leaders from 40 countries are attending the Tunis conference, including officials from global lenders such as the World Bank.

The government is seeking bids on 140 ventures — from infrastructure and agricultural projects to hi-tech schemes — worth roughly US$32 billion (30 billion euros).

At Tuesday's opening session, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani pledged US$1.25 billion (1.18 billion euros) to "support the Tunisian economy and strengthen its process of development."

French Pledges

Kuwait said it would lend Tunisia US$500 million (470 million euros) over the next five years, while Canada and Algeria also pledged financial support.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the French Development Agency (AFD) would invest "at least 250 million euros (US$265 million) every year" in Tunisia, a former French colony.

That is on top of an aid package France announced last year to pump a billion euros (US$1.06 billion) into Tunisia's economy by 2020.

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