French minister contacted Tunisia dictator: aide

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An aide to France's foreign minister admitted Wednesday the minister spoke with Tunisia's ex-leader during the country's revolution, despite earlier efforts to play down her links to the regime.

It was the latest in a series of revelations about minister Michele Alliot-Marie's holiday in Tunisia in December which have raised allegations of a conflict of interest and prompted calls for her to resign this month.

"Mrs Alliot-Marie had a short telephone conversation with Mr Ben Ali as she had with many other heads of state or foreign ministers," her aide, who asked not to be named, told AFP on Wednesday.

The revelation is likely to raise pressure on Alliot-Marie, however, after she appeared to change her story about the visit, during which she accepted hospitality from a businessman alledly close to Ben Ali's regime.

She initially insisted that her trip to Tunisia was a private affair not related to her job as minister, before backtracking on this argument. She had made no previous mention of her conversation with Ben Ali.

France tolerated Ben Ali's authoritarian regime for 23 years but turned its back on him after he was driven out in January by the popular uprising.

© 2011 AFP

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