Turkey has announced plans to strengthen its economic ties with Tunisia, with leaders of the two countries signing several cooperation agreements during a two-day trip by Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the North African country.
The Turkish president met his Tunisian counterpart, Beji Caid Essebsi, at Carthage presidential palace in the capital Tunis on Wednesday morning.
The leaders signed four separate agreements, pledging to work together in the fields of defence, trade and the environment, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported.
“Boosting a balanced trade volume will continue to be one of the priorities for our bilateral economic agenda,” Erdogan said during a joint news conference alongside Essebsi, according to Anadolu.
Erdogan said he was accompanied by 150 Turkish investors and would encourage Turkish business leaders “to invest in Tunisia and support the national economy”, Tunisia’s Shems FM radio station reported.
Turkish exports to Tunisia totalled $820m in 2015, according to the Turkish ministry of foreign affairs.
Essebsi, meanwhile, said he had been invited to make an official visit to Turkey.
Erdogan said the two leaders also spoke about regional issues, including the situation in Libya and “terrorism”.
He said both Turkey and Tunisia stood firmly against a recent US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying “Jerusalem is a red line that shouldn’t be crossed”, according to Turkish state media TRT.
At the press conference, Erdogan also criticised Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom he described as a “terrorist”.
“Assad is definitely a terrorist who has carried out state terrorism,” said Erdogan, according to Reuters.
Later on Wednesday, Erdogan held talks with Youssef Chahed, Tunisia’s prime minister, and parliamentary speaker Muhammed al-Nasir.
Agence Tunis-Afrique-Presse (TAP), a Tunisian news agency, quoted Khemaies Jhinaoui, Tunisia’s foreign minister, as saying the newly signed agreement on military cooperation would allow Tunisian forces to receive training in Turkey.
Ties between Turkey and Tunisia have been in flux since the 2011 Tunisian revolution toppled long-time Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
But Erdogan’s visit to Tunisia – the last stop in a three-country tour that also brought him to Chad and Sudan – was not without some controversy.
The national union of Tunisian journalists held a protest on Tuesday in solidarity with their jailed Turkish colleagues, in a move that was planned to coincide with Erdogan’s visit.
Seventy-three journalists are currently behind bars in Turkey, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based watchdog group.