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May, 26, 2016

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French minister in Cuba as Europe seeks opening

HAVANA, Cuba -- A French foreign minister visited Cuba for the first time in more than 30 years Saturday, traveling to the communist-run nation at a time when it is seeking to attract more foreign investment and improve ties with the European Union.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he met with Cuban President Raul Castro for an hour and half, during which the two men "talked about everything, including human rights."

Earlier Fabius met with his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez to start the trip, which French officials have said is partly to promote business ties and support French companies that want to do business in Cuba.

"We want to strengthen our ties with South America and particularly with Cuba," Fabius told reporters. "Europe also wants to (strengthen ties) and from that we are going to be able to talk about economic, cultural, political and international issues."

The European Union suspended cooperation with Cuba in 2003 when the island's government jailed 75 dissidents. Dialogue was restored five years later, though it was conditioned on improvements in the human rights situation. In February, the EU's foreign ministers approved talks to negotiate a broad new political agreement with Cuba.

Fabius noted that his visit marked the first time in more than three decades that the chief of French diplomacy had visited the island.

He arrived in Havana from Mexico, where he took part in an official visit by President Francois Hollande.

Cuban lawmakers recently approved a law aimed at making the country more attractive to foreign investors, a measure seen as vital for the island's struggling economy.

There are currently about 60 French companies present in Cuba.

Fabius also noted that Cuba has a debt with European Union countries and said that talks with Havana on the issue would begin in the coming months.

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France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, left, visits France's embassy in Havana, Cuba on Saturday, April 12, within the framework of an official visit. (AFP)

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