French PM backs minister attacked for Tunisia links

3rd February 2011, Comments 0 comments

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Tuesday he still had full confidence in his foreign minister, who is facing calls to resign over alleged links to the regime of Tunisia's ousted dictator.

Michele Alliot-Marie "has the full confidence of the prime minister and of the president," he told reporters, saying the attacks on her were unwarranted and that she had denied the allegations made against her.

The opposition Socialists called for her resignation after it emerged that during a holiday in Tunisia last month she accepted a flight from a Tunisian businessman connected with ex-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Alliot-Marie has denied any wrongdoing and insisted there were was no question of her resigning "over false claims."

Last month, when rights groups were already reporting that Tunisia's hated police had shot dead dozens of unarmed protesters, Alliot-Marie suggested France could train the force to better maintain order.

She has been a government minister for eight years, named by President Nicolas Sarkozy to head the foreign ministry late last year after terms at justice and defence.

Sarkozy admitted last week that France had underestimated the anger of the Tunisian people at Ben Ali's regime, which it had praised in the past for its economic management.

France had warm ties with him during his 23 years in power but just after he was driven out in January, Sarkozy backed the protest movement. The ex-leader was denied refuge in France and went instead to Saudi Arabia.

© 2011 AFP

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