French minister Dati at work five days after childbirth

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Just five days after giving birth to a baby girl, Justice Minister Rachida Dati is back at work.

PARIS – France's justice minister Rachida Dati returned to work on Wednesday, attending the first cabinet meeting of the year just five days after giving birth to a baby girl.

Smiling in a black suit and high heels, the 43-year-old minister arrived on foot with fellow ministers for the meeting at the Elysee palace.

Asked by reporters how she was feeling, she replied: "I am very well, thank you."

According to French media, Dati checked out Wednesday morning from the Paris maternity clinic where her first child, named Zohra, was born on Friday two weeks premature.

The minister, who is single, has kept the father's identity under wraps, telling reporters she had "a complicated private life", sparking an intense guessing game in the French gossip press.

President Nicolas Sarkozy paid a warm tribute to the "young mother" Dati during the cabinet meeting, according to government spokesman Luc Chatel.

"Rachida has always said that to be a mother was the greatest of happiness, but at the same time that she had important duties that she would continue to fulfil," Chatel told reporters.

Dati shot to prominence in 2007, when she became the first politician of north African origin named to a senior French government post.

A host of magazine covers celebrated her against-the-odds success story as the second of 12 children born to a Moroccan labourer and illiterate Algerian mother.

But since then she has run into a string of setbacks, as aides resigned over her management style and critics accused her of ramming through reforms.

Dati, who had an arranged marriage annulled in her youth, said it was "fundamental" for her to have a child.

Three French women ministers have had children on the job before, including Sarkozy's defeated rival for the presidency Segolene Royal, when she was environment minister in the 1990s.

[AFP / Expatica]

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