New furore grips France over minister's Tunisia links

French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie (9 Feb 2011) Mrs Alliot-Marie took two free flights in Tunisia during the uprising

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French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has defended a property deal between her parents and an associate of the ousted Tunisian president.

"Their private life is their own affair," she said, after news weekly Le Canard Enchaine broke the story.

Earlier Ms Alliot-Marie was criticised for having flown twice on a jet owned by Aziz Miled, who was close to ex-president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

She was on holiday in Tunisia during anti-government protests in December.

Tunisian police opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators in December, killing dozens, but after weeks of unrest in the capital Tunis and elsewhere President Ben Ali was toppled.

Some French politicians have demanded the minister's resignation over her links to Tunisia's ousted authoritarian leader. She admitted she was wrong to have flown on Mr Miled's plane.

Speaking on Wednesday on the French radio station Europe 1, her father Bernard Marie said Aziz Miled was a long-standing personal friend and "my wife and I are the only ones involved" in the business deal.

Le Canard Enchaine reported that Ms Alliot-Marie's parents, both in their 90s, already owned part of a property company, SCI Ikram, and bought the rest of the shares from Mr Miled while in Tunisia with their daughter.

"Like all politicians, I know the rules of the game," Ms Alliot-Marie said, commenting on the political weekly's revelations.

"That said, I can't understand how people could attack politicians' families, in this case my parents," she added.

Holidays at home

An aide to Ms Alliot-Marie said the minister had had "a brief telephone conversation" with Mr Ben Ali during her holiday. The aide did not elaborate further.

Meanwhile, the French government expressed its "total support" for Ms Alliot-Marie on Wednesday.

Tunisia - a popular winter holiday destination for Europeans - was formerly a French protectorate.

Last week French President Nicolas Sarkozy told his government to holiday at home in future.

He was responding to the revelations about Ms Alliot-Marie and Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who was criticised for having enjoyed hospitality in Egypt provided by former President Hosni Mubarak.

Mr Fillon admitted he took a new year break in Egypt, paid for by Mr Mubarak.

The prime minister and his family were given lodgings, used an Egyptian plane for an internal flight and took a boat trip on the Nile, all at Egyptian expense.

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