Villepin talks tough in face of censure motion

15th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 16, 2006 (AFP) - France's embattled prime minister Dominique de Villepin faced down his attackers over the Clearstream dirty tricks scandal Tuesday, accusing the Socialist Party (PS) opposition of using the affair as a fig-leaf for their own lack of policies.

PARIS, May 16, 2006 (AFP) - France's embattled prime minister Dominique de Villepin faced down his attackers over the Clearstream dirty tricks scandal Tuesday, accusing the Socialist Party (PS) opposition of using the affair as a fig-leaf for their own lack of policies.

Leading a counter-offensive in a debate on a PS censure motion, Villepin told the National Assembly he was the victim of a campaign of lies over claims that he ordered a secret enquiry into Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, and he brushed off calls for his resignation.

"Faced by this rumour-mongering, we will continue our work with method, calm and perseverance. Up until the last day set down by our institutions, we will continue to work on behalf of the French people," he said.

"Yes we are passing through difficult times. But the government will resist, our majority will resist, because the aim of all of us is truth and justice," he said.

With a large in-built majority, the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) easily defeated the censure motion, which received 99 votes short of the necessary majority. But sparsely-attended government benches showed the degree of demoralisation that has swept the party since the scandal broke.

Sarkozy himself — the popular UMP chief who is the right's front-runner in next year's presidential election — only entered the chamber as Villepin finished speaking.

Opening Tuesday's debate, PS leader François Hollande poured scorn on Villepin's administration which was "no longer a government, but a battle-field" and had provoked "one of the gravest crises in the Fifth Republic."

"Where is the solidarity when hate is the prevailing sentiment. Do you really want us to believe you can govern a country with a team like that, that you can give the country confidence when your own government completely lacks it?" Hollande said.

Echoing accusations circulating for the last two weeks, the PS leader said Villepin ordered a secret investigation in January 2004 into allegations that Sarkozy was paid illegal commissions via an account at the Clearstream clearing bank of Luxembourg.

"This is an affair of state because the secret services were used to further political passions. This is an affair of state because the state itself was taken hostage, kidnapped by clans, in order to satisfy certain personal rivalries," the PS leader said.

Dating back to 2004 when an anonymous informant sent a judge lists of alleged account-holders, the Clearstream affair has plunged the government into disarray a year ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections — hugely boosting the morale of the PS as well as the far-right National Front.

The lists turned out to be bogus, but Sarkozy believes he was the victim of a smear campaign and that Villepin — and his ally President Jacques Chirac — sought to exploit the allegations for their own ends.

In parliament Villepin — who proved his resilience last month when he refused to step down over the failure of his contested youth jobs reform — failed to answer direct allegations over the Clearstream affair, instead turning the tables on the PS.

"Your dream is that this campaign of yours be the remedy for the lack of a Socialist project. I will not allow this imposture to pass ... You are concerned about the cohesion of the government. I can assure you. Our differences will never be as deep as yours," he said.

Claiming that France's economic indicators are beginning to look up, Villepin said: "Growth this year will outperform the forecasts and pass two percent. I tell you we are emerging stronger and more confident from the years of reform undertaken by our majority."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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