May 2, 2006

French PM says he will not resign over scandal

PARIS (Reuters) - French Prime Minister Dominique de
Villepin said on Tuesday he would not resign over an alleged
smear campaign that involves top politicians.

"Nothing justifies a departure today," Villepin told Europe
1 radio. French media have been speculating for days that he
might have to step down over the affair, which apparently aimed
to discredit his rival, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

"I am ready to respond to all questions I could be asked,"
Villepin said, adding he had been shocked by the accusations
made against him.

The affair began with anonymous charges in 2004 that
Sarkozy and other politicians had accounts in a
Luxembourg-based finance house, Clearstream, and linked them to
a bribe-ridden sale of French frigates to Taiwan in 1991.

The list quickly proved bogus. A judicial inquiry has since
concentrated on finding out who authored it and whether top
government officials delayed clearing the accused left- and
right-wing politicians' names as a way of discrediting them.

Villepin and President Jacques Chirac have denied any
involvement in the scandal. Villepin and Sarkozy are in open
competition for the nomination as the main conservative
candidate in the 2007 presidential election.

Villepin on Tuesday ruled out holding early elections over
the scandal.

The scandal gained steam last Friday, when Le Monde
newspaper quoted a senior intelligence official who
investigated the scandal as saying Villepin had told him that
Chirac wanted the confidential probe to focus on Sarkozy.

The official, Philippe Rondot, denied the report on

"Villepin never asked me to get interested in politicians,"
Le Figaro newspaper quoted Rondot as saying.