French government defends minister over Tunisia
The French government Tuesday cooled expectations that Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie might resign over alleged links with the ousted Tunisian regime, expressing full support for her.
President Nicolas Sarkozy had refrained from explicitly backing her when questioned on a trip to Poland Monday, but Prime Minister Francois Fillon and another minister were quoted Tuesday as saying she had the leaders' full backing.
"I would like to express to Michele my total support. She has the support of the president of the republic and of the prime minister," Fillon was quoted as telling a private meeting of lawmakers, by several who attended along with the minister herself.
The government's spokesman, Budget Minister Francois Baroin, told France 2 television there is "no difficulty for her to pursue her mission" as foreign minister.
Alliot-Marie had faced calls to resign after she admitted travelling in a private plane owned by a businessman who was allegedly close to relatives of Tunisia's ousted dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The outcry came at a delicate time, after France was accused of being slow to react to the Tunisian uprising and of indulging Ben Ali's 23-year authoritarian regime.
Alliot-Marie denied that the businessman, Aziz Miled, had ties to Ben Ali's regime and insisted he did not ask for anything in return for the plane ride. Her critics insisted a minister must always remain above suspicion.
"She has said honestly that if she had the chance again, she would not do the same thing," Baroin said on Tuesday. "She has recognised her mistake."
© 2011 AFP