Sarkozy under fire over alleged Libya arms deal

French President Nicolas Sarkozy came under renewed pressure on Thursday over claims he concluded a major arms deal with Libya in exchange for the release of six foreign medics last week.“What I am asking for is transparency: what happened? What was given in exchange?” for the medics’ release, Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande said on France 2 television.

“And if there was no exchange, if there was no bartering, why sign a military agreement with the Qadhafi regime, which has been responsible for terrorist acts, which has been a rogue state?” Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi’s son, Saif  Islam, told Le Monde newspaper Tuesday that the medics’ release — in which Sarkozy’s wife Cecilia played a role — had paved the way for the signing of major arms contracts with France.

Islam said Libya was looking to purchase anti-tank Milan missiles worth 100 million euros from France as part of a wide-ranging defence deal, and that contracts were on the verge of being finalised.

Sarkozy, who travelled to Tripoli a day after the medics’ release, said Wednesday there had been no quid pro quo in relation to the medics’ release.

During his visit, France and Libya signed a memorandum pledging to cooperate on nuclear energy projects including for water desalination, as well as a military agreement whose contents were not made public. The French presidency said no arms contracts were signed.

“This is not just Realpolitik, this is absolute cynicism,” charged Socialist deputy Francois Loncle.

“They say there was no counterpart, then we discover there were arms contracts in the pipeline, even ones being finalised.” “What we need is  a parliamentary committee of inquiry, or at least a full and clear explanation from the head of state,” he said.

The Socialists’ spokesman in parliament Andre Vallini also called on Sarkozy to “explain himself before the French people”. “This is all starting to look like an affair of state. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be a state lie,” he said.

“For sure, it is probably a dream to hope to take secret diplomacy out of international relations,” wrote Le Monde in its Friday editorial.

But, the paper wrote, “by trying to convince us the president and his wife pulled off the happy outcome, on their own, by their sheer resilience as negotiators, the Elysee was setting itself up for a fall”.  “Mr Sarkozy will have to come up with the explanation the country expects. And the sooner the better.”

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