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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 May 2006, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Chirac defends his PM over 'plot'
PM Dominique de Villepin and French President Jacques Chirac
Mr Chirac publicly said he had full confidence in his PM
French President Jacques Chirac has defended his PM over a political scandal swirling around his government.

Mr Chirac denounced "rumours and slander" and said he had full confidence in Dominique de Villepin, in his first public comments on the issue.

The PM earlier denied he had targeted Interior Minister and political rival Nicolas Sarkozy in an investigation into alleged corruption.

Mr Sarkozy says he is determined to uncover the truth behind the "plot".

Mr Chirac's comments seem designed to end speculation he may be planning to sack Mr de Villepin in order to end the controversy surrounding the government, says the BBC's Clive Myrie in Paris.

On Tuesday, Mr Sarkozy attacked those he believes are behind a plot to discredit him and prevent a possible bid in next year's presidential elections.

'Dictatorship of rumours'

In a rare televised statement, the president said Mr de Villepin should not be distracted by the furore surrounding him.

"I have every confidence in the government of Dominique de Villepin to lead the mission I gave him," he said, speaking after a weekly cabinet meeting,

"The Republic is not a dictatorship of rumours, a dictatorship of false accusations. The Republic is the law," he said, urging investigators to speed up their work.

Mr de Villepin had ordered confidential investigations into a list, that has since proved fake, of politicians suspected of receiving illegal commissions in the sale of French frigates to Taiwan in the 1990s.

It is alleged that when he was foreign minister, Mr de Villepin ordered an investigation focusing on whether Mr Sarkozy was involved.

It has since been proved he was not and his supporters say Mr de Villepin was simply trying to discredit him before a possible presidential run next year.

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