French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie is expected to resign over the weekend after a series of gaffes over Tunisia that have tarnished President Nicolas Sarkozy's government, official sources said on Friday.
Defence Minister Alain Juppe, a veteran conservative who was both prime minister and foreign minister in the 1990s, will replace her, the sources said.
"This can't go on," one government source said of a furore over disclosures that Alliot-Marie holidayed in Tunisia as protests raged there and accepted private plane rides from a Tunisian businessman close to ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
"She has to go, and for it to be dignified, she has to stand down herself," the source said.
Alliot-Marie has been unable to visit the region since the fall of Ben Ali, and Tunisia's first post-revolution foreign minister was forced to resign after saying he had been honoured to meet her in Paris.
The government at first supported Alliot-Marie against a media outcry and opposition calls for her head, but polls showed the debacle was hurting Sarkozy's already rock-bottom ratings.
"Alliot-Marie's departure is a done deal," a second source told Reuters. "Juppe is down to take over from her straight away, with a lot of pressure coming from the president."
Sarkozy's office declined comment. Alliot-Marie told French radio she "was not interested in rumours". The daily Le Monde quoted sources as saying she would be gone by next week.
Appointed foreign minister in a November cabinet reshuffle, Alliot-Marie was criticised for being slow to react to the Tunisian revolt and for suggesting just days before Ben Ali fell that France could offer Tunisia advice on crowd control.
She came under more fire when it emerged that in the midst of the crisis, she took a holiday in Tunisia with her parents and her partner, also a cabinet minister. The group used the private jet of businessman Aziz Miled and her parents bought a real estate company from an associate of Ben Ali.
The opposition and media commentators accused her of lying in her successive explanations, and polls showed a majority of voters wanted her to resign.
Analysts now blame her for a fresh drop in Sarkozy's ratings. Surveys show most people have a negative opinion of the president and don't want him to run for re-election in 2012.
Gerard Longuet, the ruling UMP party's leader in the Senate, is likely to succeed Juppe as defence minister, especially after joining Sarkozy on a trip to Turkey on Friday.
The outcry over Alliot-Marie means Sarkozy will bring forward a minor cabinet reshuffle expected after local elections at the end of March, so Juppe will host a March 14-15 foreign ministers meeting under France's presidency of the G8.
"Like any reshuffle, it needs to be done quickly and efficiently," commented UMP lawmaker Bernard Debre on RTL radio.
ReutersLast Mod: 25 Şubat 2011, 17:47