UK foreign secretary arrives in Tunisia

2011-02-08 19:48
London - Britain's foreign secretary William Hague arrived in Tunisia on Tuesday, kicking off a whirlwind three-day trip to visit five countries in northern Africa and the Middle East amid a wave of popular protests in the region.

Hague will call "for greater political openness and economic development in the Middle East in the light of recent events in Tunisia and Egypt", and look to strengthen ties in the region, the UK Foreign Office said in a statement.

In Tunisia, the foreign secretary will meet with key figures in the country's interim government, including Prime Minister Mohammmed Ghannouchi following the ouster of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

A spokesperson for the foreign office said the trip will not include Egypt, where mass protests have gripped the country and forced concessions from President Hosni Mubarak's regime.

"It's the wrong time to go to Egypt given the talks between the government and opposition parties and the importance of not interfering," a foreign office spokesperson said, speaking on condition of anonymity according to departmental policy. He declined to name the other countries on Hague's itinerary.

The foreign office typically restricts reporting on the foreign secretary's travel movements ahead of time for security reasons, but Hague blew his own cover by posting a message to his Twitter account more than six hours before the reporting restrictions on his trip were due to be lifted.

"Heading to Tunisia to meet the new interim government & show UK support for the people of Tunisia & their democratic hopes," Hague wrote late on Monday.

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