Hollande to be first French president to visit Australia

Hollande to be first French president to visit Australia

SYDNEY - Francois Hollande will next year become the first French president to pay a visit to Australia, officials said Tuesday, as Paris pushes to boost ties with Canberra.

The official visit would take place around the G20 summit which Australia hosts in Brisbane on November 15-16, 2014, said Jean-Pierre Bel, president of the French Senate.

"The president of the republic will come because Australia is playing a key role on the international scene," said Bel, who met Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday.

"A president of the republic has never visited Australia," he said, adding, "I really, really believe the time has come to strengthen relations with this country."

Canberra takes the chair of the G20 group on December 1 and Bel spoke of entering into a "new cycle of relations" with Australia, "a continent, a country too little known in France".

Paris-Canberra ties suffered during French nuclear testing in Polynesia and the sinking by French agents of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour in 1985 as it prepared to lead protests around Mururoa atoll.

However they signed a strategic partnership in January 2012 and have worked closely on Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and other major crises in recent years.

Bel attended the November 11 armistice commemoration in Canberra to honour the 400,000 Australians - 10 per cent of the population - who fought in the First World War and the 60,000 who died, 40,000 of them in France.

Australia and France have set up a joint committee ahead of the Great War centenary next year.

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