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France

Embattled Labour Minister Woerth ‘will not resign’

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-07-07

French Labour Minister Eric Woerth has repeated he would not resign because of a deepening political scandal in which he and President Nicolas Sarkozy are accused of receiving illegal campaign contributions from France’s richest woman.

French Labour Minister Eric Woerth said Tuesday he would not give into what he called a political conspiracy that is being organised against the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy by tendering his resignation, during an interview with TF1 television. 

Woerth, who has already rebuffed calls to step down over his alleged connection to a tax evasion affair involving L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, stressed that his resignation would only be a “victory for those who insult me".
 
The deepening scandal, which has gripped the nation in recent days, reached the country’s highest office on Tuesday when Bettencourt’s former personal accountant, Claire Thibout, told French news site Mediapart that the heiress had illegally contributed 150,000 euros in cash to Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign, through Eric Woerth.
 
Besides holding the post of labour minister, Woerth also serves as the treasurer and chief fund-raiser for the ruling UMP party. Before taking over the Labour Ministry in March, Woerth served as France’s budget minister.
 
During the television interview on Tuesday, Woerth defended his management of financial contributions to Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign, and accused the opposition Socialist Party of organising a political conspiracy against him. “That campaign was validated. Validated by auditors and judges. Every receipt has been validated,” Woerth said.
 
In the Mediapart interview the former accountant also said illegal cash donations were routinely handed out to politicians for years at the Bettencourt residence in the rich suburb of Neuilly and that Nicolas Sarkozy, then mayor of Neuilly, was a regular recipient of these disbursements.

“I never touched a single euro and I am shocked. This woman who accuses me and accuses the president, I’ve never met her,” insisted Woerth.
 
Standing ovation
 
The UMP party has rallied around Woerth, who is coincidentally in charge of a landmark reform of pensions due to go to parliament in September, attacking the Socialist Party and the French media for what the UMP calls a libellous smear campaign.
 
“This is slander, this is a systematic destabilisation campaign," Prime Minister Francois Fillon told a news conference on Tuesday at the European parliament in Strasbourg.
      
In Paris, a parliamentary debate turned ugly when Budget Minister Francois Baroin accused the opposition of doing the work of the far right in pursuing the scandal, prompting a walk-out by Socialist deputies.
 
Later on Tuesday evening Woerth was given a hero's welcome by more that 200 UMP supporters who turned up for a meeting about the pension reforms in Raincy, a the wealthy suburb of Paris.
 
He was received with a storm of applause upon his arrival and a standing ovation when he took the podium. “My duty is to be steadfast and to stand up for this majority,” told the cheering audience.

 

Date created : 2010-07-07

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