Sarkozy praises Tunisia's fight against extremists

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed Tunisia on Wednesday for its fight against Islamic extremists and said the country was a "laboratory for an open Arabo-Muslim society that respects its identity."

Sarkozy's comments were criticized by some human rights campaigners. Khadija Cherif of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women said she was disappointed Sarkozy had given "priority to business."

Under President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has taken a hard line against Islamic extremists and others viewed as a threat to the country's secular system - including journalists, judges and lawyers.

Sarkozy acknowledged there were "things to accomplish or improve" but said Tunisia "can be proud of having advanced so much in half a century on the path of tolerance."

"Not everything is perfect in Tunisia, true, but not everything is perfect in France either," said Sarkozy, who was speaking on the third and final day of his state visit to the former French protectorate.

During the visit, Tunisian carrier Tunisair announced a deal to buy 16 aircraft from European plane-maker Airbus, and French and Tunisian officials signed an accord on civilian nuclear cooperation that could eventually lead to the construction of a nuclear power plant in Tunisia.

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