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Sarkozy Defends Wife's Diplomatic Role in Libya

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is defending his decision to send his wife, Cecilia, to Libya to help negotiate the release of six foreign medical workers who were sentenced to life in prison there. The six - a Palestinian doctor and five Bulgarian nurses - were convicted of deliberately injecting hundreds of hospitalized children with the AIDS virus. The six were released and flown to Sofia Tuesday morning after talks in Libya that involved Mrs. Sarkozy and the European Union's External Relations Commissioner Benita Fererro-Waldner. Anita Elash reports for VOA from Paris.

At the French presidential palace, the news that France's First Lady Cecilia Sarkozy had helped secure the release of six foreign medical workers was seen as an international coup. But when President Nicolas Sarkozy held an impromptu news conference on the subject, he was left defending his decision to send his wife on a diplomatic mission.

Mr. Sarkozy told journalists at the Elysee Palace there is no need to theorize about a new approach to diplomacy, or about the status of the president. He said the prisoners had to be released, they were released, and that is what counts.

Mrs. Sarkozy's two trips to Libya in as many weeks were a closely guarded secret. Even the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, did not know in advance that she was going. Mr. Sarkozy said Tuesday his wife did not want to talk about details of the negotiations, but that while in Tripoli, she had a long meeting with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi .

This was the first time a French president has sent his wife on a delicate diplomatic mission. Socialist Party member and European Union lawmaker Pierre Moscovici said the president must fully explain his wife's presence there.

He said on French public television that it would be logical to send Mrs. Sarkozy on a humanitarian mission, since that is the job of the French first lady. But he said he cannot accept a new kind of diplomacy that sends the first lady in a political role.

Mrs. Sarkozy has refused to comment. She boarded a plane back to France shortly after the freed medical workers landed in Sofia.