French minister suffers fresh Tunisia revelations

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France's foreign minister faced fresh embarrassment Wednesday over her links to Tunisia after it was revealed her parents bought a company from a friend there during its popular uprising.

A report in the investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaine revived a scandal which has seen the minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, resist calls to resign over alleged compromising links to Tunisia's former authoritarian rulers.

It said her father Bernard Marie and his wife Renee, both in their 90s, bought shares in a property company from Tunisian businessman Aziz Miled, who it said was close to relatives of ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

In a statement late on Tuesday, Alliot-Marie defended her parents against what she branded an undue attack on their private affairs. She did not explicitly address the allegations in the report.

"Their private life is their business. The acquisitions they make for themselves concern only them," she said. "I cannot conceive that one could attack the families of politicians, in this case my parents."

Bernard Marie insisted on Europe 1 radio that he and his wife were "the only ones responsible in this affair," saying that before leaving France he had called Miled, a long-time friend, to arrange the holiday.

Alliot-Marie had earlier said the family accepted a spontaneous offer of a lift in Miled's plane after they arrived in Tunisia, but played down his role in the holiday.

"It was at my request that Mr Miled organised our stay together in a hotel" that he owns in the Tunisian resort of Tabarka, her father said.

Le Canard Enchaine last month broke the initial story that Alliot-Marie accepted free rides in a plane owned by Miled, also during her December holiday, while the uprising that drove out Ben Ali was under way.

The minister also caused an uproar by suggesting in January that France could help train Tunisia's police to keep order, as reports were already emerging of security forces killing unarmed protestors.

The Miled scandal prompted calls from political opponents for her to resign. She denied Miled was a friend of Ben Ali's regime, which France tolerated for 23 years but turned against after he was ousted.

Le Canard Enchaine said Alliot-Marie's parents already held 13 percent of a real estate company, Ikram, mostly owned by Miled and his son, from whom they bought the remaining stake on December 30 in a deal at a hotel owned by Miled.

It said the minister was also at the hotel at the time. The total amount of the transaction was not known.

Right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy defended Alliot-Marie in the earlier scandal as well as his Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who admitted holidaying in Egypt in December at the expense of its now deposed leader Hosni Mubarak.

Sarkozy called on ministers to take their holidays in France in future and to declare any possible gifts offered to them abroad for government approval.

Reacting to Wednesday's report, centre-right opposition figure Francois Bayrou stopped short of calling for Alliot-Marie's resignation but said the public has "had enough of the constant mixing of private affairs and politics."

© 2011 AFP

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