Macron in Morocco for opening of high-speed railway

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Moroccan King Mohammed VI (R) shake hands as they inaugurate a high-speed line at Rabat train station.
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French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Morocco on Thursday to take part in the inauguration of a high-speed railway line that boasts the fastest journey times in Africa or the Arab world.

The French leader, who was invited by King Mohammed VI, will attend a grand ceremony at Tangiers' newly renovated train station, with heavy security measures put in place.

Macron will travel with the monarch on the high-speed train from Tangiers, a major port linking Africa and Europe, to the capital Rabat.

The service between Tangiers and Casablanca, via the capital, will slash journey times between the North African country's economic hubs to just over two hours from nearly five.

Trains will zoom along the newly laid tracks at up to 320 kilometres per hour (200 miles per hour) -- faster than the speeds of up to 300 kph boasted by the new line opened by Saudi authorities last month linking Islam's holiest cities Mecca and Medina via the Red Sea port of Jeddah.

Morocco has heralded the project as a key step in modernising the country after weathering the Arab Spring uprisings born largely out of discontent over inequality and poor public services.

It wants to position itself as an African hub for foreign investors.

The French presidency hailed the railway line as a "flagship project of the bilateral relationship between France and Morocco."

Macron's one-day working visit "reflects the depth of bilateral relations based on a solid and strong partnership" between the two countries, said the official MAP news agency.

France hopes the high-speed rail project will demonstrate its industrial knowhow so that its companies can secure other contracts in Africa.

"We want to make this project a showcase of the modernisation of the country: it is a challenge that we can take up," the Les Ecos newspaper wrote in an editorial Thursday.

Macron is being accompanied by the heads of French companies involved in the project, including Alstom, which supplied France's famous TGV trains, the Ansaldo-Ineo group, and the Colas Rail-Egis Rail consortium.

The president is visiting Morocco four days after King Mohammed took part in World War I centenary commemorations in France.

Hundreds of workers laboured until the last minute to complete the project, which was launched in September 2011 by then French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The Moroccan government put the cost of the project at 23 billion dirhams ($2.4 billion, 2.1 billion euros), nearly 15 percent more than initial estimates but well below average European prices.

Loans from France helped to cover half of that amount.