French FM shrugs off Tunisia trip 'shock'

2011-02-07 14:00
Paris - France's foreign minister on Monday acknowledged the "shock" caused by her holidaying in Tunisia during the popular uprising there but refused to resign under pressure from political opponents.

The minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, had faced calls to resign after she admitted travelling in a private aircraft owned by a businessman who was allegedly close to relatives of Tunisia's ousted dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The calls were revived on Sunday after the Nouvel Observateur magazine published details of a second trip during her December holiday, when the uprising that eventually deposed Ben Ali was already underway.

"I can see that it shocks people," said Alliot-Marie, in an interview in the newspaper Le Parisien published on Monday.

"There is no question of me getting in a private plane again under any circumstances as long as I am a minister."

But she insisted: "I assure you that this controversy does not deter me from my mission, any more than the attacks by the (opposition) Socialists."

Alliot-Marie had denied that the businessman, Aziz Miled, had ties to Ben Ali's regime. But her critics insisted that a minister should at all times be careful to remain above suspicion.

The outcry came at a particularly 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 when she suggested France could train the force to better maintain order.

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