Roundup: France under pressure in the aftermath of Tunisia unrest

February 7, 2011 12:22 pm 

By Zhang Xin

PARIS, Feb. 7 — With Egypt taking over from Tunisia to become the center of unrest in the Arab world, France, the biggest residence for Arab Muslims in Europe, is trying hard to redress its foreign image over allegations of early meddling and inefficient response.

The former colonizer and close rally of several more developed North African countries initially was blamed for supporting ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was later refused to land on its territory in fear of Tunisian immigrants' rising rage.

A few days after Ben Ali's fleeing, local media exposed that a daughter and some close relatives of the exiled Tunisian president were sheltered at a resort center near Paris. Shortly after the news broke, President Nicolas Sarkozy publicly recognized that France had "underestimated" the situation in Tunisia.

Later, the refuge-seekers left France for the Middle East after a French government spokesman said that Ben Ali's relatives had no reason to stay.

Immediately following the international issuance of a wanted mandate targeting Ben Ali and his entourage by the Interpol's Tunisian bureau, France announced an investigation into Ben Ali's assets in France and the freezing of all his and his family treasures which were assessed at around 5 billion dollars.

France has long been accused of taking a blind eye to what had happened in Tunisia during Ben Ali's 23 years rule. Shortly after the protests began in Tunisia, Arab immigrants in France started to show their discontent by taking to the streets across France and outside corresponding embassies.

Admitting France had wrongly judged the Tunisia model of development masked by economic and social successes, Sarkozy became very careful with words on what is going on in some Northern African countries in a way to adjust the French diplomacy.

French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie's blunder on supporting the Ben Ali regime by offering some policing equipment hurt the government's image so much that several ministers including Prime Minister Francois Fillon repeatedly stood out to make it clear that the ordered equipment were never shipped to Tunisia.

The meddling impression lingers, however. When it comes to Egypt this time, the French government said it had halted the sale of arms and riot equipment to Egypt, according to local reports on Saturday.

Meanwhile, at least 2,000 people rallied in Paris and other major cities demanding Mubarak's immediate resignation and protesting against foreign meddling in Egyptian politics.

In a recent statement commenting on the Egypt situation, Sarkozy chose to join the leaders of Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain, instead of doing it alone, a cautious move viewed by analysts.

However, for Foreign Minister Alliot-Marie, it seems much harder to get rid of the trouble. After a week's attack by the opposition party and Tunisian people's supporters, she was again accused of using a private plane of one Tunisian friend who appeared to be a close brother of Ben Ali for her Christmas holiday.

Tough both the French president and the prime minister have voiced support for her, she is still under the pressure of calls for her resignation. (PNA/Xinhua)

DCT/ebp

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