France suspends arms sale to Egypt

President Nicolas Sarkozy

PARIS, February 5, 2011 (AFP) – France said on Saturday it had suspended sales of arms and riot police equipment to Egypt amid mass protests pressing for veteran leader Hosni Mubarak to step down. The decision was taken by the prime minister’s office at an extraordinary meeting on January 27, and was conveyed to those concerned the following day, an aide to Prime Minister Francois Fillon told AFP, confirming a report on the website of the daily Le Monde. With regard to equipment used to maintain public order, “export permits for explosive materiel, mostly tear gas grenades, are the responsibility of customs. These were suspended on January 25,” the aide said. Egypt has been rocked by a popular uprising since January 25 seeking to topple Mubarak, in power for nearly 30 years.

The French government was recently challenged by the Socialist opposition as to why it had continued to allow exports of such products to Tunisia after the uprising which eventually forced long-time president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee. Fillon acknowledged that France had authorised the exports to Tunisia in November last year and January, until just before the departure of Ben Ali, but said the exports had not taken place. In December and January, there had been “no deliveries of war materiel” to the Tunisian authorities,” Fillon said, insisting that they needed the rubber stamp of a committee answerable to the prime minister. The permits had been granted by the defence, interior and foreign ministries, “but none of them resulted in exports,” he said.

Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie caused a storm last month when she suggested France could train Tunisian police to maintain order better, amid reports that they had shot dead dozens of unarmed protesters. It later emerged that France had approved the export of police equipment to Tunisia at the height of the violence.

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