French PM says Mubarak lent him plane for Egypt holiday

8th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

France's prime minister dropped a political bombshell on his government Tuesday, admitting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak lent him and his family a plane during a New Year's holiday in Egypt.

The revelation came as France's foreign minister battled calls for her resignation for travelling during a New Year's holiday in a private plane owned by a businessman allegedly close to relatives of Tunisia's ousted dictator.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon's office quickly issued a statement after the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine broke the story about his trip to Egypt, where 300 people have been killed in protests seeking to oust Mubarak.

The statement said the prime minister "at the invitation of the Egyptian authorities" had "used a plane from the Egyptian government fleet to travel from Aswan to Abu Simbel."

The statement said Fillon met Mubarak in the southern city of Aswan on December 30.

"He (Fillon) also embarked on a boat trip on the Nile in the same conditions," meaning also at the expense of the Egyptian authorities, it said.

Fillon and his family were "lodged by the Egyptian authorities" during their trip to Egypt, which lasted from December 26 until January 2, it said.

It noted that the prime minister was making this information public "in the interests of transparency."

Fillon has in recent days repeatedly backed his foreign minister Michele Alliot-Marie as she faced calls to step down over her alleged links with the ousted Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

During a holiday in Tunisia in late December, she took two trips in a plane owned by a prominent businessman -- who critics said was close to the regime -- when the uprising that eventually deposed Ben Ali was already under way.

The outcry over Aliot-Marie 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.

Sarkozy last week added his voice to calls for immediate political transition in Egypt as pressure grew on Mubarak to step down amid mass protests.

Mubarak, 82, has said he will hang on until September but not run in that month's presidential election.

Sarkozy's call echoed that of US President Barack Obama, who has told the Egyptian president that an orderly transition needed to begin immediately.

© 2011 AFP

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