Europe

Sarkozy in 'paedophile' jibe row with French media

French President Nicolas Sarkozy delivers a speech in Lisbon, 20 November Image copyright AFP
Image caption One of Mr Sarkozy's ministers said the president was only human

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's use of the word "paedophile" at an off-the-record briefing for journalists has sparked a row with the media.

When asked about alleged kickbacks over a French submarine sale, he accused reporters of failing to check facts.

To link him to the affair would be as absurd as for him to call a reporter a "paedophile", he suggested.

The briefing was given ahead of a Nato summit in Lisbon and his words were captured by the microphone system.

It is reported his aides pressured organisers to wipe the soundtrack clean to ensure it did not hit the internet, the BBC's Christian Fraser reports from Paris.

However, this week, L'Express magazine and other sections of the French media released the president's remarks, despite the "off the record" nature of the briefing.

'This is incredible'

French magistrates suspect kickbacks in the so-called 1994 Karachi-gate affair were paid to the presidential campaign fund of the then French Prime Minister, Edouard Balladur.

Mr Sarkozy, budget minister at the time, was the official spokesman for Mr Balladur's failed 1995 presidential campaign. He has categorically denied any involvement in kickbacks.

But last week former Defence Minister Charles Millon said he was convinced payment had been made to French politicians.

Questioned about his role in the affair on Friday, Mr Sarkozy told the press pack: "the world's gone mad here," according to remarks transcribed by France's AFP news agency.

"There's not a single one among you who believes I'd go and organise commissions and kickbacks on submarines for Pakistan. This is incredible."

Turning to one of the journalists, he added: "As for you, I have nothing at all against you.

"[But] it would seem that you are a paedophile... How do I know? I am deeply convinced... Can you defend yourself?"

According to AFP, Mr Sarkozy used the word "paedophile" another two or three times at the briefing.

Leaving the journalists, whom he was due to face again on Saturday at a formal summit news conference, he shouted "See you tomorrow, my paedophile friends!" (French: "Amis pedophiles, a demain!").

'Only human'

One of his cabinet ministers defended the president's outburst on Tuesday, saying he had been under intense media pressure.

"Any human being is human," said Alain Juppe, the current defence minister.

Our correspondent notes that the president's approval ratings are well below 30% and it is not the first time that an angry outburst may have cost him support.

In 2008, he told a farmer at a Paris agricultural fair to "Get lost, you idiot", or words to that effect.

Pollsters say on that occasion the internet clip was viewed millions of times and it terminally damaged the president's image, particularly among older voters.

AFP notes that caustic responses to journalists from Mr Sarkozy are nothing new.

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