MPs move to put Fabius on trial

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THE FRENCH Senate voted yesterday for the High Court to try Laurent Fabius, the former Socialist Prime Minister, and two of his ministers for the distribution of HIV-tainted blood products.

The Senate voted 286 to 1 for the convocation of the court, for the first time in the 24 years of the Fifth Republic. The vote closed the last parliamentary session before general elections on 21 March. These elections have long been expected to bring the defeat of the Socialist government. In the last week, the Socialists have done nothing to improve their chances.

Socialist MPs at first voted against calling the High Court, the only juridical instance empowered to try politicians for offences committed in office, after Mr Fabius, exonerated of any guilt by the Senate, decided that he would not push to be included with Georgina Dufoix, his Social Affairs Minister, and Edmond Herve, his Health Minister. Some Socialists thought Mr Fabius should stand trial out of solidarity.

Then, to limit the damage, Mr Fabius said he would seek trial. It was then that the Socialists tabled their motion in the lower house.

The charges, for which two senior doctors have received prison sentences, relate to the distribution of potentially fatal unheated blood products to haemophiliacs in 1985 although safe, heated products were available.

For an already weakened party, the zig-zagging of the past week has looked like a death agony. Mr Fabius, the party first secretary, has said the High Court, composed of MPs, is a political court. Although the conservative-dominated Senate decided he did not have charges to answer, he continued to attack the institution.

The manoeuvres to block proceedings are likely to be poorly understood by voters shaken by revelations of poor and even cynical management of their health service. Now, political commentators predict that Pierre Beregovoy, the Prime Minister, and not Mr Fabius will lead the Socialist election campaign.

Serge July, the editor of the daily Liberation, said yesterday that the Socialists were behaving 'like elephants who detach themselves from the herd to die'.

An opinion poll in the Journal du Dimanche showed that President Francois Mitterrand had lost one point to amass a 28 per cent approval rating while Mr Beregovoy had slipped to 30 per cent.

In another development, Antoine Dufoix, the husband of Mrs Dufoix, was charged last week in connection with illegal Socialist Party funding. The Dufoix earlier issued libel writs against Rene Trager, a businessman accused of providing some of the illegal funds, for allegations he made against the couple in a book.

On the positive side for the French left, charges against Bernard Tapie, the entrepreneur who was briefly minister for towns last spring until accused of disohnesty by a former business associate, were dropped on Friday after the two men agreed on a settlement.