Tue, Aug 07, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Sarkozy interrupts US holiday to defend himself

AFP , WOLFEBORO, NEW HAMPSHIRE

French President Nicolas Sarkozy broke from his vacation in this leafy lakeside town to deflect criticism about his allegedly lavish US summer break and a controversial arms deal with Libya.

After avoiding a platoon of French reporters for days, a tanned and smiling Sarkozy emerged in front of Wolfeboro's town hall to fend off accusations of a link between a major arms deal struck by European aerospace giant EADS with Libya, and an affair involving foreign medics jailed there.

The recent release by Libya of the six medics, who were imprisoned on charges of infecting hundreds of children with the AIDS virus, was partly brokered by Sarkozy's wife Cecilia.

French Defense Minister Herve Morin confirmed the US$405 million arms deal on Friday and the opposition Socialist Party quickly demanded a parliamentary enquiry to decide if France offered the contracts to Libya to obtain the medics' freedom.

"It was totally transparent," Sarkozy said of the contracts. "EADS has been discussing them, with full authorizations, for 18 months."

"What do they criticize me for? Getting contracts? Creating jobs for French workers?" he said.

Refusing to answer questions in English -- "My English is so bad," he told one non French-speaking reporter -- Sarkozy would not confirm he might meet US President George W. Bush at the Bush vacation home in Maine.

He rebuffed criticism of his stay at an allegedly US$20,000-a-week vacation mansion on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee.

"I have friends who have vacationed here for years. They rented a house and they invited us," he said. "I came on a regular flight. My family came on a regular flight."

"Nine-hundred thousand French go to the United States every year, and I am just one of them," he said.

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