The former prime minister of Tunisia, a member of the International Olympic Committee that will decide whether Salt Lake City will host the 1998 Winter Games, proclaimed the community "beautiful."

Mohamed Mzali, who is living in exile in Paris since he was overthrown in 1986, spoke to reporters through an interpreter after he and his wife, Fethia, had lunch with Gov. and Mrs. Norm Bangerter at the governor's mansion."Since I've been here two days, what I've seen here is even better than I've been told," Mzali said in French through a Salt Lake attorney acting as his interpreter. "You have a very beautiful city."

But the first member of the IOC to visit Salt Lake City since Atlanta was selected in September as the site of the 1996 Summer Games acknowledged the choice of another American city as an Olympics host may hurt the state's chances.

"It's not a weakness, but it could be considered a handicap. It's the choice of Atlanta," Mzali said when asked to point out any shortcomings in Salt Lake City's prospects. "It's a handicap that can be overcome."

Mzali declined to say whether he himself would vote for Salt Lake City when the IOC meets next June to choose the site of the 1998 Winter Games, saying he has never disclosed his votes in the 25 years he has been a member.

He is the ninth IOC member to visit Utah at the invitation of the Salt Lake City Olympic Bid Committee. Another 25 IOC members are scheduled to visit the city before the June vote, and Olympic boosters hope to bring more.