France backs Tunisian people's 'democratic will'
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy offered his support for the first time Saturday to the "democratic will" of the Tunisian protesters who ousted his strongman ally Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
"For several weeks, the Tunisian people have expressed their democratic will. France, which has so many links of friendship with Tunisia, offers it its determined support," Sarkozy's office said in a statement.
"France calls for calm and an end to violence. It calls for the organisation of free elections in the shortest time possible," it said, adding that France had frozen suspect Tunisian financial transactions.
France had been a close ally of Ben Ali throughout his 23 years of often brutal and authoritarian rule, and as late as this week Sarkozy's government was offering to train Tunisian police to better put down opposition protests.
But Ben Ali was forced to flee on Friday as the protests intensified and an embarrassed France refused to offer him asylum.
© 2011 AFP