Thu, May 25, 2006 - Page 6 News List

French PM claims to be victim of a smear campaign

AP , PARIS

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin denounced on Tuesday efforts to implicate him in a political scandal a year before presidential elections, and suggested that notes from an intelligence operative that appear to deepen the head of government's role are being misconstrued.

"I am not duped," Villepin said in an interview on France-2 television. "I see clearly that they wanted to implicate me in a political affair."

He refused to specify who they might be.

In the interview, Villepin went on the offensive to try to turn the page on the scandal and portray himself as a prime minister occupied with citizens' daily lives. The political scandal has played out in French papers for weeks.

"Nothing alters or will alter my work at the service of the French," he said in Bordeaux after a visit to try to save jobs at a nearby European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company subsidiary destined for closure.

The scandal hinges on accusations that Villepin, along with President Jacques Chirac, were involved in a smear campaign against their political rival: Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, considered a likely contender in next year's presidential elections.

However, the complex scenario had its beginnings with a 1991 French frigate sale to Taiwan and reports of alleged kickbacks, a scandal that has shaken the government.

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