French Prime Minister Francois Fillon admitted Tuesday that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak paid for his and his family's New Year holiday on the Nile and lent them a plane to go sightseeing.
The shock revelation came as France's foreign minister battled calls for her resignation over a New Year holiday in Tunisia during which she used a private jet owned by a tycoon allegedly close to the country's ousted dictator.
Fillon's office rushed out a statement after the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine broke the story about his trip to Egypt, where 300 people have been killed in massive street protests seeking to oust Mubarak.
The Fillon family got a free holiday that lasted from December 26 to January 2 in the Nile resort of Aswan, and were treated to a Nile boat ride and a flight on an Egyptian government plane to go sight-seeing, it said.
"The prime minister was lodged during this visit by the Egyptian authorities," the statement said, noting that Fillon met Mubarak in Aswan on December 30, before anti-government protests kicked off in Egypt.
"The prime minister, again at the invitation of the authorities, used a plane from the Egyptian government fleet to travel from Aswan to Abu Simbel where he visited a temple," it said.
The prime minister was making this information public "in the interest of transparency," it added, and pointed out that Fillon personally paid for his family's flight from France to Aswan on a French government plane.
The Egypt trip is the first major scandal to hit Fillon, who has been seen as a safe pair of hands and a low-key figure complementing the impetuous right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy, since he was appointed in 2007.
North Africa is a popular winter destination for France's political elite.
Sarkozy and his pop singer wife Carla Bruni spent their end-of year holiday in Morocco at the Jnane Lekbir royal residence belonging to King Mohammed VI.
Fillon has repeatedly backed his Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie over her latest holiday in Tunisia, which sparked calls for her to step down over alleged links to the ousted Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The outcry over Alliot-Marie came at a delicate time, after France was accused of being slow to react to the Tunisian uprising and of indulging Ben Ali's authoritarian regime.
France had warm ties with Ben Ali during his 23 years in power but just after he was driven out.
Last month, when rights groups were reporting that Tunisia's hated police had shot dead dozens of unarmed protesters.
Sarkozy acknowledged late last month that France, like many countries, "underestimated" events in Tunisia that have since inspired wider upheaval in the Arab world, and France's ambassador to Tunis has since been replaced.
Opposition politicians are demanding that Alliot-Marie resign over the trip where she, her partner and parents took flights on a Tunisian businessman's jet.
She and her government are under the gun also over a disclosure that France authorised tear gas exports to Tunisia at the height of a police crackdown on protesters and Alliot-Marie offered France's riot control know-how to Tunis.
AgenciesLast Mod: 09 Şubat 2011, 11:32