Michele Alliot-Marie, France's foreign minister, quits (VIDEO)


French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie leaves the Elysee Palace in Paris, on Feb. 24, 2011, after a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.


Patrick Kovarik

Michele Alliot-Marie, France's foreign minister, has quit over a series of gaffes, chiefly her ties to Tunisia's ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

President Nicolas Sarkozy earlier Sunday confirmed veteran politician Alain Juppe as Alliot-Marie's replacement as part of a reshuffling of the cabinet less than four months after the last one.

Unlike in the case in the U.S. or in the U.K., writes GlobalPost correspondent Ben Barnier, it is unusual for a French politician to resign because of a conflict of interests.

According to Barnier, Sarkozy is trying to "clean up" his government ahead of next year's presidential election.

The foreign minister, with her Tunisia blunders, was clearly a burden on Sarkozy's popularity.

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde told France 3 TV Sunday that Alliot-Marie "chose to give her resignation to the president."

But she was said to have been pushed by Sarkozy, who has seen his own popularity plummet after Alliot-Marie and prime minister Francois Fillon were caught accepting gifts from North African regimes at a time of unrest in the region.

Fillon acknowledged recently that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak provided his family free lodging, a plane flight and an outing on the Nile during their Dec. 26-Jan. 2 vacation in Egypt. The trip came shortly before the mass protests aimed at ousting Mubarak.

Alliot-Marie had been castigated for taking a Christmas holiday in Tunisia with her family after unrest had begun there, and then being flown around on a private jet owned by Aziz Miled, a close associate of the Ben Ali family.

Alliot-Marie claimed she had only accepted the offer of a free plane ride after bumping into Miled by chance at the airport, but it later transpired her parents had sealed a lucrative property deal with the businessman while there.

According to The Telegraph, she also faced accusations of helping rubber-stamp deliveries of tear gas to the Tunisian security forces immediately before the uprising that ousted Ben Ali, and of offering France's expertise on crowd control.

Alliot-Marie-Marie's partner, Patrick Ollier, kept his post as the minister in charge of relations with parliament, despite a North African controversy of his own. Ollier has denied using his close relationship with Muammar Gaddafi to secure French arms deals with Libya.

In a written statement following her resignation, Alliot-Marie said she had "committed no fault," The Telegraph reported.

Juppe, 65, mayor of the wine-making city of Bordeaux, served as foreign minister and prime minister in the 1990s before being sidelined for links to a party financing scandal.

He was appointed Defense Minister in a November 2010 reshuffle aimed at bringing old-school experience into Sarkozy's government.

Juppe is a protege of former president Jacques Chirac, serving as his prime minister until he clashed with unions over pension reform.

Sarkozy didn't mention Alliot-Marie on Sunday evening, instead citing the challenges of a new era in North Africa as a reason to reorganize his diplomacy and security ministries, according to the Wall Street Journal.

According to Lagarde, "I don't think the change was decided in the last half of today."

Speculation over Alliot-Marie's position ran high all weekend: