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French President Visits Athens Amid Media Blackout

By ELENA BECATOROS and NICHOLAS PAPHITIS

ATHENS, Greece (AP) â¿¿ French President Francois Hollande pledged investments in Greece's ailing economy during a brief visit on Tuesday, seen as a show of support for the country's uphill struggle to recover from its debt crisis.

But a media strike left the event with minimal domestic coverage, to the fury of the Greek government that had sought to play up the visit to an austerity-weary public. State TV reporters were eventually forced back to work by court order.

Hollande said French firms were expected to participate in Greece's huge privatization program, a key condition of the country's bailout program. The government is focusing on energy, water, transport and railway deals.

"I am here in Athens to mobilize French companies so that they invest in Greece," Hollande said. "That is in the interests of Greece and France alike."

France has long been a major arms supplier to Greece, which was until recently one of Europe's top defense spenders due to an arms race with regional rival Turkey. But Hollande said he was not in Athens to sell military hardware.

"We must provide the Greeks with solidarity, aid and above all show confidence â¿¿ which will help restore growth," he said

The journalists' 24-hour walkout pulled all news broadcasts off the air and left news websites without updates. Newspapers will not publish Wednesday editions.

The government hastened to accuse the main opposition Syriza party of deliberately instigating the strike to "cause a news blackout of the visit of French President Francois Hollande."

State television carried live images â¿¿ without commentary â¿¿ of Hollande arriving at the airport and being greeted by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Cabinet members, as well as of the leaders' joint press conference. For hours, it broadcast repeated raw footage of Hollande in Athens, replete with background noise like birdsong.

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