Egypt/Tunisia/unrest – France/Tunisia/police – Côte d’Ivoire
Q. – The unrest in Egypt is growing. Is Hosni Mubarak under threat?
THE MINISTER – We’re very concerned about the demonstrations and we deplore the violence, which has led to casualties.
We call for restraint and dialogue. All the world’s leaders must heed the transformations in society and peoples’ aspirations for change, freedom, democracy and the sharing of wealth. There’s a lot of talk about contagion from Tunisia, but the situation in the two countries isn’t comparable. Tunisia is a relatively rich country with an influential middle class. Egypt has major economic difficulties and the Muslim Brotherhood has a big presence there.
Q. – France gives the impression of being the autocrats’ friend.
Bouteflika and Mubarak even come here for treatment…
THE MINISTER – That shows the quality of our medicine… The United States also receives leaders for treatment there. On a more serious note, we quite simply apply the international principles to our relations: we deal State to State with governments recognized by the international community. The second principle is that we don’t interfere in the affairs of another State, just as we wouldn’t tolerate people interfering in ours. The third and final principle is that we always call for more democracy and freedom.
Q. – In Tunisia, General Ammar, the man who forced Ben Ali to step down, is regarded as a hero. What might his and the army’s role be?
THE MINISTER – I’ve known Rachid Ammar for nearly ten years. He’s a remarkable and sincere man, a soldier with a republican spirit, very respectful of the institutions and democratic values and always careful to remain separate from politics.
Q. – Your proposal to help the Tunisian police was very much criticized. Your remark also sparked an outcry in Tunisia itself…
THE MINISTER – What was said was misunderstood. Doubtless it was badly phrased. Some people tried to interpret my remarks in the opposite way to how I intended them. It’s a sterile and unfounded debate. Let’s be clear: I never said I wanted to send French policemen or gendarmes to Tunisia to help the regime keep order. That’s legally and morally impossible and quite simply absurd.
Q. – It’s what people understood, though…
THE MINISTER – When I see people killed in demonstrations it appals me; it profoundly upsets me. I’m committed to freedom; I think people should be able to demonstrate without jeopardizing their safety, as they can in France. That’s what I meant: nothing more. And I didn’t wait for the former president’s departure before stating clearly that I deplored the deaths and the disproportionate use of force. When certain people began the controversy I was in Qatar, talking about the Eastern Christians and upholding religious tolerance. Had I been in Paris, I could have explained my underlying thoughts more quickly and better. (…)
Q. – The situation in Côte d’Ivoire, between Gbagbo and Ouattara, seems to have got bogged down. How can the deadlock be overcome?
THE MINISTER – We’re doing everything possible to find a peaceful solution. A military solution, as envisaged by the Economic Community of West African States, can only be a last resort. On the legal level, the situation is clear: the international community has recognized Alassane Ouattara as the elected and legitimate President. In the face of this unanimity, Laurent Gbagbo, with the support of his presidential guard and militias, is refusing to hand over power.
Q. – Has Nicolas Sarkozy called him recently?
THE MINISTER – No: Laurent Gbagbo no longer picks up the phone to anyone who tells him democracy must be respected. He only speaks to those who agree with him. So the international community is exerting pressure: 85 people in his entourage no longer have the right to travel to Europe. Economic sanctions have been taken. The aim is to dry up the financial resources.
Q. – In the event of military action by the African countries against Gbagbo, what would the French soldiers present in Côte d’Ivoire do?
THE MINISTER – The Licorne detachment’s mission is perfectly defined: our soldiers are there to act only if French nationals are attacked or if the UNOCI [United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire] is in great difficulty. (…)./.