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Sarkozy ignites furor with push for foreign intervention in Syria

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who spearheaded air strikes in Libya, wants 'rapid' foreign intervention in Syria. Critics say the two conflicts are not remotely comparable.

By Staff writer / August 9, 2012

This file photo shows Nicolas Sarkozy, France's then-President and conservative candidate for re-election in 2012, as he delivers a speech during a campaign meeting in Sables d'Ollonne, western France.

Michel Euler/AP/File

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Paris

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who spearheaded air strikes in Libya that helped topple Muammar Qaddafi, is calling for “rapid” foreign intervention in Syria to “avoid a massacre” – breaking a public silence since his political defeat in May, and pushing President François Hollande to take a more active hand as Syrian fighter jets strafe neighborhoods in Aleppo.

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But reaction in France has been hot and roundly critical, with senior officials saying the two crisis points are very different, and that Mr. Sarkozy is being impulsive.

Sarkozy sent French fighter jets to relieve the besieged city of Benghazi in the spring of 2011 to avoid a looming massacre of rebels who wanted Mr. Qaddafi out. A joint statement issued after Sarkozy spoke with members of the opposition Syrian National Council yesterday said, "They agreed that there are great similarities with the Libyan crisis.”

Members of Sarkozy’s party, meanwhile, called for Mr. Hollande to “immediately” end his vacation and get further involved.

Yet current and former French foreign ministers today challenged the idea that Libya, which is not surrounded by other diverse and unpredictable states, and whose UN intervention was supported by Arab nations – is comparable to Syria.

“I am surprised that Mr. Sarkozy wants to stir up controversy on such a serious subject,” said foreign minister Laurent Fabius in the French press today.  “One would expect something different from a former president. The situation in Syria is obviously very different from that of Libya.”

How to help?

The issue goes to the heart of a wrenching debate over how to help Syria, even as the Kofi Annan peace plan has been put aside and high-level defections from Bashir al-Assad’s regime continue. Russia and China have continued to oppose Western answers to the crisis in the UN Security Council.

"In the Libyan case, there was a cry to help insurgents in Benghazi,” posits Hubert Védrine, a former French foreign minister. “This was supported by the Cooperation Council for the Arab Gulf States, and supported by the Arab League.”  There was a “demand for action, meaning that … Russia and China in the Security Council were on the spot and did not dare to veto."

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