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AFGHANISTAN

Sarkozy in crisis meeting after Afghan killings

President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday held an emergency security meeting as yet another French soldier was killed in Afghanistan, a day after five others died in a suicide attack there.

Sarkozy said the meeting, which gathered his prime minister, defence and foreign affairs ministers and military top brass, was to discuss how to keep French combat troops safe before they quit Afghanistan by 2014.

“The most complex period to handle is the transition and withdrawal period,” he told reporters on the Champs Elysees as he inspected the giant annual military parade there attended by tens of thousands of onlookers.
“I have announced a withdrawal calendar for our troops in Afghanistan. This withdrawal will begin this year and will carry on until 2013. We had a job to do and we have done it,” the president said.
He reiterated that, in agreement with NATO allies, responsibility for security in the war-torn country would be progressively handed over to Afghans themselves.

Shortly after Sarkozy spoke at the parade, his office announced that a French soldier had been killed Thursday while taking part in an operation alongside Afghan police in Kapisa province, east of Kabul.  

That brought to 70 the number of French soldiers who have died in Afghanistan since 2001, when they deployed to support the US-led campaign to overthrow the Taliban regime and hunt Al-Qaeda militants.

Sarkozy said this year’s July 14 national holiday, which saw the French military display its might on the Champs Elysees as warplanes and helicoptersroared overhead, was dedicated to the soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
 
Before arriving at the parade Sarkozy visited a military hospital near Paris to visit soldiers wounded while serving as part of France’s 4,000-strong contingent there.
 
Some wounded soldiers and their families sat alongside government ministers and top officials in a tribune at the bottom of the Champs Elysees to watch as thousands of troops marched or rode by on horseback.
The five soldiers killed on Wednesday along with an Afghan civilian were aged between 27 and 38. A suicide bomber targeted them as they protected a local tribal council in the Tagab valley of Kapisa province, east of Kabul.
 
Wednesday’s attack was the worst loss for French forces since August 2008, when 10 soldiers were killed and 21 injured after Taliban guerrillas ambushed a patrol in Uzbin, in the Sarobi district east of Kabul.

It came just a day after Sarkozy returned from a surprise visit to the country and was also a blow to his struggle to defend his country’s role in Afghanistan

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SARKOZY

Corruption trial begins for France’s ex president Sarkozy

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy goes on trial on Monday on charges of trying to bribe a judge, in what could be a humiliating postscript to a political career tainted by a litany of legal investigations.

Corruption trial begins for France's ex president Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AFP

Though he is not the first modern head of state in the dock – his predecessor and political mentor Jacques Chirac was convicted of embezzlement – Sarkozy is the first to face corruption charges.

He fought furiously over the past six years to have the case thrown out, and has denounced “a scandal that will go down in history”.

“I am not a crook,” the 65-year-old, whose combative style has made him one of France's most popular rightwing politicians, told BFM TV this month.

Prosecutors say Sarkozy promised the judge a plush job in Monaco in exchange for inside information on an inquiry into claims that Sarkozy accepted illicit payments from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign.

Their case rests in large part on wiretaps of phone conversations between Sarkozy and his longtime lawyer Thierry Herzog, which judges authorised as prosecutors also looked into suspected Libyan financing of Sarkozy's 2007 campaign.

That inquiry is still underway, though Sarkozy caught a break this month when his main accuser, the French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine, suddenly retracted his claim of delivering millions of euros in cash from Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Sarkozy and Herzog have assailed the taps on their phones as a breach of client-attorney privilege, but in 2016 a top court upheld their use as evidence.

Charged with bribery and influence peddling, Sarkozy risks a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of €1 million.

Herzog, a leading member of the Paris bar, faces the same charges as well as violation of professional secrecy. The trial is expected to last three weeks.

'A boost'

Investigators discovered that Sarkozy used an alias – Paul Bismuth – to buy a private phone for conversing secretly with his lawyer.

On around a dozen occasions, they discussed reaching out to a top French judge, Gilbert Azibert, a general counsel at the Cour de Cassation, France's top appeals court for criminal and civil cases.

Prosecutors say Azibert, who is also on trial, was tasked with trying to obtain information from the Cour de Cassation lawyer in charge of the Bettencourt inquiry, and to induce him to seek a verdict in Sarkozy's favour.

In exchange, Sarkozy would use his extensive contacts to give “a boost” to Azibert's efforts to secure the cushy Monaco post.

“He's been working on it,” Herzog tells Sarkozy in a call from early 2014.
Azibert was already considered a leading candidate for the job, but “if you give him a boost, it's always better,” Herzog says in another.

“I'll make him move up,” Sarkozy tells Herzog, according to the indictment by prosecutors, who compared his actions to those of a “seasoned offender”.

But later, Sarkozy tells his lawyer that he would not “approach” the  Monaco authorities on Azibert's behalf — a sign, according to prosecutors, that the two men had been tipped off about the wiretaps.

“Mr Azibert never got any post in Monaco,” Sarkozy told BFM television this month – though under French law, just an offer or promise can constitute corruption.

Still in limelight

Sarkozy, a lawyer by training, has long accused the French judiciary of waging a vendetta against him, not least because of his attempts to limit judges' powers and criticism that they are too soft on delinquents.

He will again be back in court in March 2021 along with 13 other people over claims of campaign finance violations during his unsuccessful 2012 re-election bid.

Prosecutors accuse Sarkozy's team of using a fake-invoices scheme orchestrated by the public relations firm Bygmalion to spend nearly €43 million on the lavish run – nearly twice the legal limit.

The long-running legal travails hindered his comeback bid for the 2017 presidential vote, losing out as the rightwing nominee to his former prime minister François Fillon.

Yet like other former French presidents, Sarkozy has surfed a wave of popularity since announcing his retirement from politics in 2018, pressing the flesh with enthusiastic crowds at his public appearances.

Lines of fans queued over the summer to have him sign his latest memoirs, “The Time of Storms”, which topped best-seller lists for weeks.

SEE ALSO: Sarkozy accused of racism after 'monkey' comment

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