Pakistan president visits French chateau as floods rage
Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari visited his family's stately home in the French countryside Tuesday, as critics in his flood-ravaged homeland slammed his European "joy ride".
A French air force helicopter deposited Zardari in the grounds of the Manoir de la Reine Blanche (Manor of the White Queen) for a two hour stopover in the 16th-century chateau, built for the widow of King Philippe VI.
Journalists were kept at a distance from the elegant property, which is surrounded by two hectares (five acres) of lakes and wooded parkland and is listed on France's register of historically significant monuments.
The house has belonged to Zardari's family for 24 years and the president's father, Hakim Ali Zardari, is a regular summer visitor.
"He's a neighbour with whom we have excellent relations," said local mayor Jerome Grisel, who owns a farm immediately adjoining the estate.
But while the family is popular in Normandy, many back home in Pakistan are angered by Zardari's decision to spend a week in Europe at a time when monsoon flooding has killed 1,500 people and affected 3.5 million more.
"Two young girls in my immediate neighbourhood drowned in the flood waters," declared 40-year-old Sher Khan, one of many in Majuky Faqirabad who hit out when AFP reporters visited Pakistan's flood-hit northern valleys.
"Zardari should visit the flood-hit areas and take steps for welfare of the stranded people instead of taking joy rides to France and UK."
Aside from touring his French estate, Zardari -- whose career has been so dogged by graft allegations that he earned the nickname "Mr 10 Percent" -- also met French President Nicolas Sarkozy and asked for flood relief.
He was due to fly on later Tuesday to Britain, where Friday he was to see Prime Minister David Cameron to address a row that erupted last week when the British leader accused some Pakistani agents of backing Taliban extremists.
But the British leg of his trip has also been criticised.
Two British lawmakers of Pakistani origin hit out on Tuesday, saying Zardari should be back home sorting out the flooding disaster rather than using the British Pakistani community as a launchpad for his son's career.
Alongside talks with Cameron, Zardari was to meet with Pakistani-origin lawmakers, and to attend an event on Saturday which reports say is primarily to serve the political ambitions of 21-year-old Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
The 21-year-old is the son of Zardari and murdered former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. He is co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party alongside his father and has been studying at Britain's Oxford University.
© 2010 AFP