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MIDDLE EAST

France urges war-torn Libya to act on UN peace plan

France's foreign minister on Thursday urged Libya's unity government to act on a United Nations plan for 2018 elections and a national dialogue to stabilise the war-torn country.

France urges war-torn Libya to act on UN peace plan
Macron looks on as Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj (L) shakes hands with General Khalifa Haftar (R), commander in the Libyan National Army (LNA). Photo: AFP
“This calendar is the indispensable political solution for Libya and it must be implemented now with the utmost speed,” Jean-Yves Le Drian said after talks in Tripoli with Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the Government of National Accord.
 
Oil-rich Libya has been wracked by chaos since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
   
Sarraj's GNA, the product of a 2015 deal aimed at restoring stability to Libya, has failed to impose its authority across much of the country, particularly the east where a rival government backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar holds sway.
 
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A plan presented to the UN Security Council in September by international envoy Ghassan Salame seeks to negotiate a new political deal that would be accepted by authorities in the east.
   
French President Emmanuel Macron, who hosted a meeting in July between Sarraj and Haftar, at the time announced a deal to hold elections in the spring.
   
Le Drian said he and Sarraj had a “total convergence of views” on the UN plan and on “the need to move quickly”.
   
In Tripoli, he also visited a detention centre for migrants waiting to be repatriated to their home countries.
   
The minister travelled on to Benghazi, 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) east of the capital, to meet Haftar, who said this week that the GNA had lost any legitimacy since its mandate expired on December 17 under the 2015 accord.
   
Le Drian said he delivered a message to Haftar: “There is no other alternative to the accord, also for you. You have a recognised international image. Place it at the service of your country.”

CORRUPTION

‘I’ll smash my accusers’: Sarkozy comes out fighting over corruption charges

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy vowed to clear his name on Thursday after being charged for financing his 2007 election campaign with money from late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi, but admitted he was "finished" in politics.

'I'll smash my accusers': Sarkozy comes out fighting over corruption charges
French former president Nicolas Sarkozy speaking during an interview with TF1 on March 22nd. Photo: AFP PHOTO / TF1
“It might take me one, two, 10 years but I'll smash this group (of accusers) and will restore my honour,” he said during an emotion-charged prime-time television interview on Friday evening. “I don't plan to give an inch!”
   
Having already stepped back from a front-line public role in 2016 after he failed with a bid to run again for president, Sarkozy told his interviewer on the TF1 channel that for himself “politics is finished”.
   
In an defiant half-hour performance that saw him shake with indignation at times, Sarkozy frequently referred to his accusers from Kadhafi's regime as “sinister”, “liars” and a “group of killers”.
   
“If you had told me that I would have problems because of Kadhafi, I would have said: 'What are you smoking?'” Sarkozy said at one point, claiming that investigators had not found a single piece of evidence against him.
   
The 63-year-old, who served as French leader from 2007 to 2012, was charged with corruption, illegal campaign financing and concealment of Libyan public money on Thursday evening after two days of questioning in police custody.
 
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Under the French system, charging a suspect means that investigators believe they have strong and corroborated evidence against them, but the defendant can appeal and the case can still be dropped before a trial.
   
The allegations that Sarkozy took money from Kadhafi — whom he welcomed to Paris in 2007 but then helped to topple in 2011 — are the most serious out of several investigations that have dogged him since he left office.
   
“I am hurt deeply as a person, not for me, for my country,” Sarkozy said in his concluding remarks on the TF1 channel. “You can't drag people into the mud because some killers wanted to do it. I can't let them get away with it.”
   
Earlier in a statement released to Le Figaro newspaper, Sarkozy said he had been “living the hell of this slander since March 11, 2011,” when the first allegations against him emerged via Kadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam.
   
He went as far as to blame “the controversy launched by Kadhafi and his henchmen” for his failure to win re-election in 2012, when Francois Hollande, a Socialist, took the presidency.
 
Suitcases of cash?
 
Since 2013, investigators have been looking into claims by several figures in Kadhafi's ousted regime that Sarkozy's campaign received cash from the dictator.
   
In 2011, as NATO-backed forces were preparing to drive Kadhafi out of power, Seif al-Islam told the Euronews network that Sarkozy must “give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign”.
   
Sarkozy has dismissed the allegations as the rantings of vindictive Kadhafi loyalists who were furious over the French-led military intervention that helped end Kadhafi's 41-year rule and ultimately led to his death.
   
He has also unsuccessfully sued the investigative website Mediapart for publishing a document allegedly signed by Libya's intelligence chief showing that Kadhafi agreed to give Sarkozy up to 50 million euros ($62 million). The courts have ruled it can be used as evidence.
 
Ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy hauled in by police for grilling... once again
   
Franco-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine also claims to have delivered three suitcases stuffed with a total of five million euros ($6.15 million) to Sarkozy and his chief of staff in 2006 and 2007.
   
Sarkozy lashed out at the arms broker in his television interview and in his statement, arguing his account contained inconsistencies and accusing him of having “highly suspect characteristics and a questionable past”.
   
The legal investigation is also looking into a 500,000-euro foreign cash transfer to Sarkozy's former chief of staff Claude Gueant and the 2009 sale of a luxury villa to a Libyan investment fund.
   
Le Monde newspaper further reported that other former regime officials have stepped forward alleging illicit financing.
 
First ex-president in custody
 
In 2014, Sarkozy became the first former French president to be taken into police custody, over a separate inquiry into claims he tried to interfere in another legal investigation against him.
   
But he is not the first ex-president to be charged with corruption — his predecessor Jacques Chirac was given a two-year suspended sentence in 2011 for embezzlement and misuse of public funds during his time as mayor of Paris.
   
Sarkozy is already charged in two separate cases, one relating to fake invoices devised to mask overspending on his failed 2012 campaign and another for alleged influence peddling.