French foreign minister lost in Tunisia fable

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French foreign affairs minister Michèle Alliot-Marie has come under intense pressure to resign following further revelations about her New Year's holidays with her partner and family in strife-torn Tunisia. Contradicting her version hitherto of events, it now emerges that during the trip she held talks with now-deposed president and despot Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, while her parents signed a business deal with an entrepreneur close to the regime. Here, Mediapart compares the minister's public statements with the truth established so far, revealing how she has misled both the French public and parliament.

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French foreign affairs minister Michèle Alliot-Marie has come under intense pressure to resign following further revelations about her New Year's holidays with her partner and parents in strife-torn Tunisia, and which contradict her version hitherto of events.

The minister spent nine days in the Tunisian seaside resort of Tabarka between December 25th and January 2nd, accompanied by her partner and French minister responsible for relations with parliament, Patrick Ollier, and her parents Bernard, 92 and his spouse Renée. They stayed in a hotel owned by Mohamed Aziz Miled, a Tunisian businessman close to the disgraced Ben Ali regime, and whose private jet was also used by the party for transport on at least four occasions.

Mediapart this week revealed that during her sojourn amid the uprising she talked by phone with now-deposed president and despot Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Two weeks later, amid violent clashes between police and demonstrators across Tunisia, Alliot-Marie offered Ben Ali the "know-how" of French security forces to contain the crowds. He was overthrown and forced into exile shortly afterwards.

Meanwhile, French investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaîné revealed this week that Alliot-Marie's father Bernard and his wife Renée used the holidays to buy into a property company run by Miled.

The continuing disclosures have shown Alliot-Marie to have consistently misled the French public and parliament in her comments about the nature of her controversial holidays, and her relationship with Miled, a member of the central committee of Ben Ali's ruling party. Here, Mathieu Magnaudeix returns to her different public statements and compares what she said with what has now been established.

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"I never said that I wanted to send French police or gendarmes to Tunisia to help the regime maintain order": interview with French daily newspaper Le Parisien, January 30th.

Speaking before French parliament on January 11th, while the Ben Ali regime was attempting to suppress the widespread uprising in Tunisia, the French foreign minister gave a clear offer of help to the authorities in Tunis: "We propose that the know-how that is recognised throughout the world of our security forces can settle security situations of this type," she told MPs. "It is the reason why we propose to the two countries[...] to act along these lines so that the right to demonstrate can be exercised while ensuring security."


ALLIOT-MARIE propose d'aider la Tunisie dans la répression © SuperBeurkMan

During the interview with Le Parisien on January 30th, just as in a separate earlier interview broadcast on the France 2 public television channel on January 17th, she insisted that her parliamentary speech had been misunderstood. During the TV interview, the minister appeared embarrassed, and her explanation awkward (click on picture below to reach a separate page then click button on screen to play - in French only).



In the interview she gave to Le Parisien published January 30th, it was put to Alliot-Marie that "Your proposition to help the Tunisian police has been widely criticized. [In Tunisia] , also it raised a storm." She answered: "This phrase was not understood. No doubt it was badly worded. Some people wanted to give my words an interpretation that was contrary to what I thought. Let's be clear, I never said that I wanted to send French police or gendarmes to Tunisia to help the regime maintain order. It is impossible on a judicial basis, on a moral basis and is quite simply absurd."

So why did she make the offer to the Ben Ali regime of of lending French "know-how" in maintaining security? Was it possible that she was asked for help during her sojourn in the country between December 25th and January 2nd? Mediapart revealed this week that she held a phone conversation with President Ben Ali during her holidays, although the subjects raised remain unknown.

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