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Brussels, 14 February 2011

HRVP Ashton visits Tunisia and wider Middle East

Catherine Ashton, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/European Commission Vice-President, will visit Tunisia and a number of countries in the Middle East region, including Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territory this week.

During her trip to Tunisia on Monday (February 14), Ashton will meet Prime Minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi and the ministers responsible for International Cooperation, Trade and Tourism and Local and Regional Development. She also plans to meet with the main political parties and civil society.

Catherine Ashton said: "The EU is wholeheartedly behind the Tunisian people’s aspirations for freedom, democracy and dignity. They have reached a point of no return in their history and I pay tribute to the courage and dignity of the people in their peaceful struggle to be the owners of their own destiny.

In particular I look forward to meeting with the representatives of civil society, Human Right Defenders, Women Representatives and students. They will give me the best picture of the challenges and opportunities they face. I have realized that there is much that the EU can do to support their voices. Deep democracy can only take root and flourish through and with the participation of all civil society stakeholders.

All the Tunisian political actors and civil society at large must continue to work together, in an orderly but decisive transition towards free and democratic elections later this year, with a clear road-map of reforms and quick implementation. We in the EU support this change and we are Tunisia's strongest ally in its move towards democracy."

Catherine Ashton will travel to Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territory on Tuesday, February 15 where she will meet key actors in the Middle East Peace Process, including Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Ashton will discuss with the parties the recent meeting of the MEPP Quartet Principles which she chaired in Munich and outline the next steps agreed during the meeting, notably the upcoming meeting of Quartet Envoys with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Brussels.

From Israel, Catherine Ashton intends to travel to Lebanon and Jordan where she will hold meetings with the countries' leaders including President of Lebanon Michel Suleiman and King Abdullah Al Hussein of Jordan.

Catherine Ashton has also stated her intent to visit Egypt at the earliest opportunity, as mandated by EU leaders. During her visit to the region, she will stay in close contact with the Egyptian authorities so this trip can take place as soon as possible.

During her visit, Catherine Ashton will hold a daily press conference, starting in Tunis at approximately 1700 local time in the Delegation of the European Union.

Video and photographs will be made available through EBS.

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