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Kyrgyzstan: Akaev Receives Pledges Of Economic And Cultural Support In Paris

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev today concludes a three-day visit to Paris, during which he held talks with French leader Jacques Chirac and attended UNESCO's biannual general conference.

Prague, 7 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- During talks in Paris yesterday, French President Jacques Chirac promised his Kyrgyz counterpart Askar Akaev that France would boost its investment in the Central Asian country, Kyrgyzstan's official Khabar news agency reported.

Direct French investment in Kyrgyzstan between 1999-2002 amounted to some $410,000. Chirac also pledged closer cooperation with Kyrgyzstan on border protection and the fight against drug trafficking. Ishengul Bolzhurova, the Kyrgyz minister of education and culture, spoke to RFE/RL in Paris. She described as "friendly" the bilateral talks between French and Kyrgyz officials, which focused mainly on economic and defense issues.

Some 500 French soldiers were stationed at Kyrgyzstan's Manas airport at the height of the war in Afghanistan. Bolzhurova said Chirac pledged to return the favor by preventing Taliban-style extremism from spreading to Kyrgyzstan. "President Chirac of France said that Kyrgyzstan has become an important strategic partner in the struggle against terrorism," Bolzhurova said. "I spoke with [German Chancellor Gerhard] Schroeder two days ago and it was agreed that Germany and France would help Kyrgyzstan in the struggle against terrorism and would give the country humanitarian and economic support so as to avoid any repetition of what happened in Afghanistan."

A press spokesman for Akaev said Chirac also pledged to protect Kyrgyzstan's interests in the EU. The meetings concluded with a plan to improve economic and strategic relations between the two countries. Follow-up meetings will be held next year in Bishkek. It was unclear whether Chirac raised the issue of human rights with Akaev.

New York-based Human Rights Watch, together with three Kyrgyz NGOs and the Kyrgyz opposition party Ar-Naqyma, sent an open letter to the French president asking him to discuss continued allegations of rights abuses in the Central Asian country. Akaev also spoke at the general conference of the UN's Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). He asked the body to create a university in Kyrgyzstan, modeled on UN University in Tokyo, that would focus on cultural subjects and other topics within the UNESCO mandate.

Askar Kakeev, the rector of Kyrgyz National University, said two agreements were signed on the formation of a university in Bishkek and on the preservation of Silk Road monuments in northern Kyrgyzstan. "Koitiro Matsura, the secretary-general of UNESCO, proposed to protect the petroglyphs, stone carvings, and the old Buddhist ruins along the Silk Road and to broaden people's knowledge of the Kyrgyz epic 'Manas,'" Kakeev said.

(Amirbak Osmanov of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)