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  • Writer's pictureMark Tamhane

Fear and Loathing in Paris

(from ABC NewsRadio's "Brekkie Crumbs" blog)

Australian politics is often described as "robust".

It's a word Kevin Rudd used to explain his recent expletive-laden tirade against a group of Labor backbenchers.

"I think it's fair to say, consistent with the traditions of the Australian Labor Party, we're given to robust conversations.... and I make no apology for the content of my conversations or the robustness with which I express my views" he said on Sunday in New York, when asked about dropping the "F-bomb".

However, Mr. Rudd's profanities, Bill Heffernan trying to shirt-front the Nationals Barnaby Joyce, even former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans' reported penchant for throwing ashtrays and Mark Latham's troubled relationship with taxi-drivers....all seem to pale into insignificance compared to the political bile that's being put on full display in France this week.

Overnight, the trial began in Paris of the former Prime Minister, Dominique De Villepin.

He's accused of plotting to destroy the career of the man who's now the President of France, Nicholas Sarkozy.

The complicated case goes back to 2004, when the two men were arch-rivals for leadership of the ruling conservative Rally for the Republic party.

This is what the BBC's Hugh Schofield told us in Breakfast:

"Outside the courtroom, a taste of the venemous personal battle that this case has become. For Mr. Villepin, that he's on trial at all, is the President's doing":

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: "I hope that the demands of justice will be met. I am here by the will, I am here by the obsession, of one man -- Nicolas Sarkozy -- who is also President of the French Republic. I will emerge free and with my name cleared in the name of the French people. Some would have you believe that there is no such thing in our country as a political trial. I would like to believe it to...yet here we are in 2009...and in France."

As Schofield explained,

"By temperament, background, looks and politics, the two men could not have been more different. Diminutive, hyperactive, pro-American, Nicolas Sarkozy made no secret in the last years under President Chirac of his impatience with the existing order. He wanted radical change. For him, de Villepin represented everything bad about the old order -- a languid, establishment figure....a career diplomat who'd never once faced election. De Villepin in return regarded Sarkozy as brash, populist, maybe even dangerous for France."

The central allegation is that De Villepin tried to manipulate a judicial investigation -- or at least failed to intervene when he knew allegations to be false -- in order to dent Mr Sarkozy's chances of winning the 2007 French presidential election.

"For the defence", Schofield says, "it is Sarkozy - two and a half years into his presidential term - who is now wreaking his personal revenge."

If found guilty, Dominique De Villepin could go to jail for FIVE YEARS!

Boy, and you thought John Howard and Andrew Peacock loathed each other...

"Robust" plus-grande!

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A big shout out to the very talented Kerry Martin and my alma mater De La Salle College Malvern for putting together this feature for the latest issue of their Roll Call magazine.

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