Sarkozy calls cabinet meeting on Tunisia

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Saturday called a ministerial meeting on the Tunisian crisis and the fate of French nationals in the North African country, his office said.

The meeting, due to start at 1100 GMT, will be attended by Prime Minister Francois Fillon, and his defence, foreign, interior and budget ministers, it added.

Late Friday Sarkozy had already held talks on Tunisia at the Elysee Palace with Fillon.

France had earlier Friday "taken note" of the change of leadership in Tunisia, where Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announced that he had taken over as interim head of state after ousted leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country with his family.

The foreign ministry formally confirmed Ben Ali had not asked for asylum and a government source said he would not be welcome.

A source close to government thinking told AFP Paris did not want to risk upsetting its large population of Tunisian immigrants and French citizens of Tunisian origin, saying: "There are a million Tunisians in France, most of them anti-Ben Ali."

Early on Saturday, Saudi Arabia announced it had taken in Ben Ali "out of concern for the exceptional circumstances facing the brotherly Tunisian people and in support of the security and stability of their country".

As Tunisia's former colonial power, France enjoyed close ties with Ben Ali's authoritarian regime, and was accused of being slow to criticise his bloody crackdown on the wave of social protests that erupted last month.

© 2011 AFP

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