UPDATE 2-France agrees to 1.8 bln euros in financing for Egypt

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CAIRO, June 13 (Reuters) - France said on Sunday it would provide Egypt with some 1.8 billion euros ($2.2 billion) in financing for projects including the Cairo metro, power generation and water management, in what officials called a major boost to bilateral cooperation.

The financing includes a concessional government loan of around 800 million euros for upgrades to Line 1 of Cairo’s metro, which dates to the 1980s. Another 1 billion euros of financing from AFD, France’s development agency, will cover a range of projects over the next five years.

Further state-guaranteed loans worth a possible 2 billion euros for a new metro route in Cairo - Line 6 - would be negotiated over the next six months, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said during a trip to the Egyptian capital.

France and Egypt have forged close ties since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi became president in 2014, despite differences over human rights and strong criticism of Egypt by rights activists and some foreign states.

Sisi’s domestic backers say a far-reaching crackdown on liberal and Islamist opponents has helped stabilise Egypt.

Cooperation has included billions of dollars in arms sales to a country France considers a vital partner in countering Islamist militancy. In May, France announced a new 4 billion euro deal to deliver 30 Dassault warplanes to Egypt beginning in 2024.

Le Maire said France considered Egypt a strategic partner and had chosen to expand its commercial dealings with the North African country following a visit by Sisi to Paris in December.

“France will substantially increase its direct exposure to Egypt, becoming the first counter-party for government to government loans,” he said.

Projects announced on Sunday include the construction of a railway line between Aswan in southern Egypt and Wadi Halfa in neighbouring Sudan, Egypt’s cabinet said. AFD will also provide 150 million euros to support building a universal health insurance programme.

($1 = 0.8260 euros)

Additional reporting by Momen Saeed Atallah Writing by Nafisa Eltahir and Aidan Lewis Editing by David Goodman, Elaine Hardcastle and Andrew Heavens