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Mitterrand: African Nations Must Move Toward Democracy

June 21, 1990 GMT

LA BAULE, France (AP) _ President Francois Mitterrand told African leaders Wednesday they must move toward democracy, then announced new steps to ease the continent’s debt burdens.

″Democracy is a universal principle. It’s the direction that must be taken,″ Mitterrand said in his opening address to a summit attended by 35 African delegations, many from one-party states.

″Have confidence in freedom,″ Mitterrand said. He promised French support for countries that ″took the road to democracy.″

About 200 protesters calling for reforms in African nations marched as the summit formally opened.

Mamadou Diouck, spokesman for the Panafrican Forum for Democracy, said it was necessary to ″cleanse the political morals of Africa to permit true development.″

King Hassan II of Morocco urged the West to help Africa’s ″young democracies″ make a peaceful transition from one-party to multiparty systems.

″The countries of Africa have no need to be ashamed, but they have to learn,″ the king said. ″Time is needed, and patience even more so.″

Mitterrand said France would give outright grants, rather than loans, to the poorest African nations and would limit the annual interest charged on loans to middle-income countries to 5 percent.

The opening speeches followed private talks late Tuesday in which Mitterrand, according to one of his aides, advised the African leaders to move away from one-party political systems.

President Abdou Diouf of Senegal, speaking to a handful of reporters, said he favored rewarding nations that move toward pluralism. ″I think it is necessary to encourage us a bit, give us a little push.″

But Diouf warned: ″A democracy without development has no sense and, in the end, is dangerous.″

He said he would like to see an African Common Market or political federation ″because as small states we cannot advance. We need to be a big grouping.″

After 30 years of independence for many African nations, ″the illusions have disappeared,″ Diouf said. ″It is perhaps easier now to unite our weaknesses to become an economic and political force.″

Of the delegations at the summit in the Brittany beach resort, 22 are led by heads of state, some facing unprecedented political opposition at home.

In his speech, Mitterrand said he intends to ask the heads of state and government at the seven-nation economic summit in Houston next month to join France in helping African countries alleviate their heavy debt loads.

He has depicted France as Africa’s most generous supporter and said the problems of developing countries would be eased dramatically if Japan and the United States gave equal support.

French officials said the decision to limit the interest rate paid by certain middle-income African countries on their public debt with France means loan payments will be about halved.

The measure chiefly applies to Gabon, the Ivory Coast, Congo and Cameroon, which collectively owe France more than $10 billion.

Calude Arnaud, an aide to Mitterrand, said President Hissene Habre of Chad complained during the talks late Tuesday that Western lending institutions were making democracy more difficult by imposing economic austerity measures.

The summit is to conclude Thursday.