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French premier vacationed in Egypt before protests

Premier Francois Fillon says he took a vacation partly paid for by Egypt's authorities. He is the second Cabinet member to draw fire over ties with a besieged Arab government.

February 08, 2011|By Kim Willsher, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Paris — France's prime minister acknowledged Tuesday that he took a family vacation in Egypt partly paid for by Egyptian authorities shortly before the uprising erupted last month against President Hosni Mubarak.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon is the second French Cabinet minister in recent weeks to draw fire over a possible conflict of interest generated by contacts with a beleaguered Arab government.

Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has faced calls to resign over a vacation in Tunisia during that North African nation's uprising and for using a private jet belonging to a businessman believed to have links to Tunisia's president, who was later ousted from power.

Fillon's office issued the statement "in the interests of transparency" shortly before the satirical investigative paper Le Canard Enchaine, which broke the Alliot-Marie story, was to reveal potentially embarrassing details of his post-Christmas trip.

According to the statement, Fillon and members of his family flew to Egypt on Dec. 26 for a "private visit," traveling on a French government plane for "security reasons," and he was billed for the round-trip flight. However, during the weeklong vacation the Fillons were housed by the Egyptian authorities, used an official Egyptian plane for a trip to the temple site at Abu Simbel and took a Nile boat trip paid for by the Egyptians.

On Dec. 30, Fillon met in Aswan with Mubarak, who is under increasing pressure from protesters to resign.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's center-right government has faced criticism for its slow response to events in North Africa, where a wave of civil unrest has engulfed unpopular regimes, and for offering security aid and know-how to Tunisia and Egypt. Last week, it was revealed that French police had run courses in crowd control for their counterparts in Cairo in October.

Willsher is a special correspondent.

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