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Paris blocked riot equipment export as Ben Ali prepared to flee

media Preside Nicolas Sarkozy with Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on a visit to Tunisia … Reuters

The French government blocked the export of riot-control equipment to Tunisia just hours before the fall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, reports say. The move marked a reversal of a policy which saw ministers offering help in tackling the protests which toppled the unpopular president.

Customs officers prevented the departure of an airplane loaded with tear gas grenades, uniforms and other police equipment on Friday, sources at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport confirmed Wednesday after a report on the Marianne2 website.

Dossier: Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution

The cargo, which Marianne2 says was an order placed by the Ben Ali regime with a French security supplies export company, did not contain arms.

The order to stop the flight came from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, airport sources told the AFP news agency.

Foreign Affairs Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie has come under fire for offering French “savoir faire” on security as anti-Ben Ali protests raged on 11 January.

Facing a parliamentary committee on Tuesday, Alliot-Marie claimed that her words had been misinterpreted and that she was opposing the disproportionate use of force. Her defence failed to convince left-wing MPs who called her statement “shocking”.

Prime Minister François Fillon assured Alliot-Marie of his continuing support on Wednesday.

"History often moves faster than diplomacy," he declared.

Tunisia’s new government has rejected a French offer of aid in a move seen as reflecting anger at Paris's long-term support for Ben Ali.

Meanwhile a photo of President Nicolas Sarkozy shaking hands with Ben Ali has been removed from the website of the Tunisian embassy in France, having remained there five days after Ben Ali was driven out of office.

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