French minister regrets Tunisia holiday 'shock'

7th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

France's foreign minister on Monday regretted the "shock" caused by her holidaying in Tunisia during the popular uprising there but refused to resign under pressure from political opponents.

The minister, Michele 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.

"I can see that it shocks people," said Alliot-Marie, in an interview in the Le Parisien newspaper published on Monday.

"There is no question of me getting in a private plane again under any circumstances as long as I am a minister."

But she insisted: "This controversy does not deter me from my mission, any more than the attacks by the (opposition) Socialists".

Alliot-Marie has 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.

Pressure on her mounted Sunday after the Nouvel Observateur magazine reported a second trip on Miled's plane during her December holiday, when the uprising that eventually deposed Ben Ali was already underway.

Busy ministers "need to rest from time to time... and at that moment you forget that you're a representative. It was a mistake, I realise that now," Alliot Marie said in the comments published Monday.

"Did I let myself relax and only see the friendly relations? Yes, that's possible, and I deeply regret it."

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 authoritarian regime.

France had warm ties with Ben Ali during his 23 years in power but just after he was driven out, President Nicolas Sarkozy backed the protest movement and denied him refuge in France.

Last month, when rights groups were reporting that Tunisia's hated police had shot dead dozens of unarmed protesters, Alliot-Marie caused an outcry by suggesting France could help train the force.

© 2011 AFP

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