France faces second 'Air Dictator' scandal

09.02.11 @ 09:37

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BRUSSELS - A second 'Air Dictator' scandal has gripped the French government, after Prime Minister Francois Fillon admitted to using the plane of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak to go on vacation with his family.

Dubbed "Air Mubarak" after the recent "Air Ben Ali" scandal involving French foreign minister Michele Alliot-Marie, the Egyptian holiday of Mr Fillon was again uncovered by the satirical magazine Le Canard Enchaine, the same publication that first reported on the foreign affairs chief's holiday jaunt.

The prime minister's office on Tuesday (8 February) admitted in a press release that the high ranking official had spent winter holidays at the expense of Mr Mubarak's government.

He and his family also "borrowed a plane from the Egyptian fleet to travel from Aswan to Abu Simbel where he visited a temple" and "embarked on a boat trip on the Nile" - all paid for by the Egyptians, the statement said.

Mr Fillon met Mr Mubarak on 30 December in the southern city of Aswan and on 1 January, he went to the local cathedral to offer his sympathies after the bombing of a church in Alexandria. The prime minister flew back on 2 January. Three weeks later, at least 300 people had reportedly been killed during street protests seeking to oust the 82-year-old leader who has ruled Egypt for almost three decades.

The row comes only days after French foreign minister Michele Alliot-Marie had to apologise amid calls for her resignation after she vacationed in Tunisia using a jet of one of the deposed dicatator's friends.

Since then, she has promised to spend all her future vacations in the Dordogne and French leader Nicolas and Mr Fillon have both backed her continued service as foreign minister.

Mr Sarkozy has said he will make "recommendations" to his ministers on what is acceptable when going abroad for holidays, however.

But the promise has had little truck with the Socialist opposition. "Clearly, one can see day after day to what extent the government has lost its public sense," Socialist leader Martine Aubry said, as quoted by Le Figaro.

In 2007, President Nicolas Sarkozy himself had to face criticism over his Christmas break with Carla Bruni, also spent in Egypt.

Mr Sarkozy's close ties with the Egyptian strongman were also evident during the rotating EU presidency held by Paris in 2008, when he launched the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), appointing Mr Mubarak as co-chair.

Ultimately, the ill-starred UfM last year failed to meet at top-level due to divergencies over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its secretary general resigned last month citing "difficult circumstances."

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