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Tunisia has announced three initiatives to boost the contribution of science and technology to national development.

On 25 September Tunisia's president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali signed a decree to establish a national 'observatory' to coordinate studies of science, technology and innovation and promote scientific training programmes.

Part of its role will be to provide policymakers with information about research trends of potential socioeconomic importance.

Also last week, the Tunisian prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced plans to create 12 technology parks to encourage the commercialisation of academic research.

Speaking on behalf of Ben Ali at the 11th summit of the International Francophone Organisation held in Romania on 28-29 September, Ghannouchi said the parks would "develop synergy between education, research and enterprise".

Ahmed Rabei of the Centre of Biotechnology of Sfax, Tunisia, welcomes the plans, saying they could help to solve technological, economic and social problems as well as to create a knowledge-based society.

"One of the major limitations to the commercialisation of research activities in Tunisia is the absence of a clear strategy that indicates which technologies can be commercialised and how," he told SciDev.Net.

Also last month, Tunisia's science ministry launched a programme to encourage Tunisian researchers living abroad to return and work in national research centres for up to ten months.

The programme will promote collaborative research and innovation activities in priority fields such as biotechnology, information technology, energy, the environment and agriculture.