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French foreign minister to resign on Sunday

PARIS, Feb 27 – Beleaguered French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie will on Sunday tender her resignation after returning from an official visit to Kuwait, a minister told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Alliot-Marie has become embroiled in a series of scandals over her controversial links to Tunisia, where she took a holiday during its popular uprising.

Her family also admitted buying a stake in a company from a Tunisian businessman allegedly close to the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who also provided her with free plane rides during a December holiday while the uprising against Ben Ali was under way.

Earlier Saturday Alliot-Marie said she was fully committed to her job, declining comment on reports of her imminent sacking.

Speaking in Kuwait, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of independence, Alliot-Marie said "you can see clearly — I am working; I am 100 percent committed as far as being foreign minister."

"I will not comment on rumours from Paris," she added in remarks to journalists accompanying her, according to a member of her entourage.

On Friday, two senior cabinet ministers said Alliot-Marie would leave the government on Sunday or Monday.

"Michele Alliot-Marie will leave the government this weekend or on Monday. She should be replaced by Alain Juppe," according to one of the ministers, saying the situation was "untenable" for President Nicolas Sarkozy\’s government.

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The other unnamed minister put Alliot-Marie\’s future exit down to Sarkozy\’s plunging support in opinion polls.

"Michele Alliot-Marie has fallen and dragged everyone with her. This must be stopped," he said.

Following the revelations about Alliot-Marie, an aide admitted that the minister had spoken to Ben Ali by telephone, despite her earlier attempts to play down her contact with his regime.

Just days before Ben Ali\’s fall, she shocked Tunisian democrats by suggesting France could help train Tunisia\’s hated police force to better enable it to control the popular uprising against his rule.

In mid-February, the opposition demanded that Alliot-Marie step down.

French newspapers laid into Alliot-Marie over the "calamity", "lies" and "untruths". The left-leaning daily Liberation said that she "bends but does not break" despite "increasingly embarrassing" the government.

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