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French government chides Sarkozy for Syria remarks

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 9 Aug 2012 09:40 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Foreign minister, Socialists lash back at Sarkozy

* Socialists see political agenda behind Syria statement

* UMP slams government for taking holiday despite crisis

By Catherine Bremer and Sophie Louet

PARIS, Aug 9 (Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and others in the ruling Socialist Party rebuked former President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday for indirectly criticising the government's handling of the Syria crisis.

Fabius told the daily le Parisien that Sarkozy, who pushed for the West's military intervention in Libya last year, would do better to keep quiet now that he is out of power.

"I am surprised Mr. Sarkozy wants to stir up controversy over such a serious subject when one would expect otherwise from a former president," said Fabius, foreign minister since Socialist Francois Hollande ousted Sarkozy in the May election.

"I ask myself whether (Sarkozy's decision to speak out) is in order not to be forgotten, although this would be truly pathetic," Fabius said. "In such serious circumstances, it is better to stand behind the policies of one's country."

Sarkozy, a conservative, broke a three-month silence since his election defeat with a statement on Wednesday calling for rapid international intervention in Syria, likening the crisis there to the Libyan uprising against Muammar Gaddafi's rule.

Sarkozy spoke to Syrian opposition leader Abdulbaset Sieda on Tuesday and said they both agreed on the need for action in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

There was no reaction from Hollande, who is on vacation in the south of France, but several other Socialists weighed in to defend the government, which has shied away from seeking any initiatives outside the United Nations Security Council.

"Coming from an ex-president who received Bashar al-Assad with great pomp in July 2008 on the Champs Elysees for a troop inspection, frankly we are flabbergasted," Socialist Party official Jean-Christophe Cambadelis said on i<Tele television.

"SUNBATHING"

Sarkozy's allies sniped back at the left, with UMP official Philippe Juvin saying "while massacres are taking place daily" in Syria, Hollande is "peacefully sunbathing on the beach".

Sarkozy declared the night of his defeat that he would withdraw from politics, but many expect him to seek a comeback as the conservatives struggle to unite around a new leader ahead of a contest in November for a new UMP party head.

One of Sarkozy's strengths over rivals is his record of assertiveness in international affairs, having made his mark in last year's crises in Libya and the Ivory Coast. He also showed leadership in Europe when it was hit by economic crisis in 2008.

Frontrunners in the race to lead the UMP are Sarkozy's popular former prime minister, Francois Fillon, and former budget minister and UMP Secretary General Jean-Francois Cope.

Fabius, a former prime minister, will head a ministerial-level meeting of the U.N. Security Council at the end of August, the month France holds the rotating Council chair.

The talks are to focus mainly on humanitarian assistance, however, as opposition from veto-holding Council members Russia and China prevents any concrete U.N. action on the conflict.

Fabius said the Syria crisis differed from Libya's because of the superior weaponry of Assad's forces and the tensions among Syria's neighbours in a combustible region.

"We are not inactive," he said, noting that Paris had hosted an international "Friends of Syria" meeting in July and that he would travel to Jordan next week to set up a hospital for victims of the violence in Syria.

"Because it's very difficult to advance politically, at least we can do so on the humanitarian front," he said.

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