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Foreign investors urged to join Tunisia democratic 'startup'

Tunisian Prime Minister Mehid Jomaa called on international investors to invest in 'democracy' in Tunisia
Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa in the capital Tunis on 3 September (AFP)

Tunisia on Monday urged foreign investment in its democratic "startup", three years after the country set the ball rolling on the Arab Spring uprisings that swept away longtime dictators.

"To invest in Tunisia, in this startup, is to invest in democracy," Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa told an international investment conference in Tunis.

His visiting French counterpart, Manuel Valls, backed the appeal.

"At a time when chaos threatens Libya, when barbarity is rampant in Iraq and Syria, Tunisia needs all our support to continue on the path of democracy," he told participants.

Tunisia was to inform representatives of around 30 countries, 20 international institutions and dozens of private companies on 22 major projects costing 12 billion dinars (more than 5 billion euros, $6.5 billion).

The construction of a deep-water port in Enfidha, south of the capital, and a dam in northwest Tunisia figure among the projects.

Tunisian authorities say the main goal of the conference is to restore investor confidence through the government's "strategic vision" of structural economic reforms.

"We forgot about the economy over the past three years but the economy did not forget us," said Jomaa, referring to instability, political crisis and social unrest since Tunisia's 2011 revolution.

Tunisia's growth rate for the first half of 2014 fell to 2.1 percent, lower than for the same period of last year and not enough to absorb growing unemployment in a cash-strapped country.

Authorities vaunt the "success" of Tunisia's political transition, pointing to the adoption of a constitution and a "national dialogue", following political assassinations and attacks on security forces which rocked the country last year.

A government of technocrats has been running Tunisia since January, ahead of legislative and presidential elections in October and November.

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