Sarkozy admits France 'underestimated' Tunisian anger
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy admitted Monday that France had previously underestimated the anger of the Tunisian people at Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's ousted regime.
France was criticised for having supported Ben Ali's authoritarian rule for too long, in the face of mounting frustration of Tunisian citizens seeking greater political and economic freedom.
Speaking to reporters, Sarkozy acknowledged Paris had been slow to speak out, but said he had to be very careful not to be seen to interfere in the sovereignty of former French colonies and protectorates.
In Tunisia, "behind the emancipation of women, the drive for education and training, the economic dynamism, the emergence of a middle class, there was a despair, a suffering, a sense of suffocation," Sarkozy said.
"We have to recognise that we underestimated it," he added.
"The colonial power always lacks legitimacy to pass judgment on the internal affairs of an ex-colony," Sarkozy said. "I do not want France to be likened to a country that has kept its colonial habits."
France had warm ties with Ben Ali's regime during his 23 years in power but made an embarrassing U-turn after the authoritarian ruler bowed to popular protests and fled the country this month.
It was not until after Ben Ali was driven out that Sarkozy backed the protest movement and the fugitive ex-leader was denied refuge in France, which throughout his rule had praised his economic management.
At one stage, when rights groups were already reporting police had shot dead dozens of protesters, Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie suggested France could train the force to better maintain order.
© 2011 AFP