It was an extraordinary measure in extraordinary political times. French President Jacques Chirac has made an unscheduled appearance on television to defend his beleaguered prime minister and core national values.
Denouncing what he called a “dictatorship of rumour” surrounding the so-called Clearstream scandal, the head of state said the republic was founded on law. “A legal investigation is underway,” he reminded the nation. “It must be allowed to do its work: establish the facts, all the facts and apply the law.”
The president said Dominique de Villepin and his conservative government should not be distracted by the furore. Villepin denies attempting to discredit his political rival Nicolas Sarkozy by linking him to a corruption scandal. Chirac meanwhile denies related claims in a satirical weekly that he had a secret bank account in Japan.
In another twist, Jean-Louis Gergorin, the executive vice-president of European aerospace firm EADS, quit to concentrate on answering questions about the affair.
He is at the centre of speculation about the identity of the person behind anonymous and bogus claims linking French personalities to a kickback scheme.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy – a hopeful for next year’s presidential poll – was among those to be falsely accused.
The scandal threatens to seriously damage the government ahead of that election. The Socialist opposition is already planning a parliamentary vote of no-confidence.