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French minister plays defence after controversial remarks on Tunisia

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-01-20

French Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie spoke to the National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee Tuesday to rectify a statement made last week that suggested France would side with the Tunisian government in its standoff with protesters.

When French Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie said last week that France could help Tunisia control the protests against President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, she was slammed for appearing to side with a repressive government against the people.

Now she is going back on that statement.

“People sometimes misspeak”, Alliot-Marie said Tuesday in a hearing before the National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee. “It is inconceivable to believe that France could lend its security forces to another country”.

‘Standard procedure not to interfere’

Alliot-Marie, a fixture in Sarkozy’s centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, set off a mini-controversy on January 11 when she told the National Assembly, France's lower house of parliament, that France could “offer the know-how of [its] security forces to help control this type of situation”. The statement was slammed by the French left, with certain figures calling for her resignation, and in the press, where Alliot-Marie’s words were depicted as emblematic of France’s hands-off approach to the Tunisian crisis.

Tuesday was Alliot-Marie’s chance to rectify her position in front of lawmakers. “France did not see these events coming, any more than anyone else did”, she said of the riots that forced Ben Ali to flee the country on Friday after 23 years in office. “Ben Ali’s Tunisia was recognised by the international community. It was standard procedure not to interfere”.

Though Ben Ali’s human rights record has been a source of international concern, France has been mostly complimentary of his presidency in the former French protectorate; he has been particularly praised for bolstering Tunisia’s economy and taking a firm stance against terrorism.

But when Ben Ali left Tunisia on Friday, French officials said they would not grant him exile in France, which is home to a large population of residents of Tunisian descent.

Date created : 2011-01-18

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