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Finance minister in France quits, admitting error in judgment

PARIS -- Finance Minister Herve Gaymard of France resigned yesterday amid reports about his state-funded luxury apartment that embarrassed the government.

''I am aware that I committed blunders and, above all, a serious error of judgment regarding the conditions of my official lodgings," Gaymard said in his resignation statement.

There was no immediate announcement of a replacement for Gaymard, who spent less than three months at the Finance Ministry.

Gaymard's departure also shone a spotlight on a lack of continuity at France's Finance Ministry. His replacement will be the fourth finance minister in 11 months.

Gaymard, a protégé of President Jacques Chirac, first came under fire last week when the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné revealed that he, his wife, and eight children were living in a $18,500-a-month duplex paid for by taxpayers.

The revelations were embarrassing for a government that has sought to control public spending. Gaymard's resignation came on the same day that official figures showed France's unemployment rate hit 10 percent in January for the first time in almost five years.

Gaymard, 44, was tripped by his own contradictory statements about his housing situation.

He suggested to Paris-Match magazine that he took the luxury flat because he came from too humble a background to be able to afford his own place.

But he was later forced to admit that he owned a large four-bedroom apartment on Paris's Left Bank, rented for $3,050 a month.

Support from Gaymard's Cabinet colleagues had been wearing thin. Chirac maintained a stony silence about the issue until his office said yesterday that he had accepted the minister's resignation.

With elections two years away, Chirac's governing Union for a Popular Movement party aims to show voters it has moved on from the funding scandals that beset its predecessor, the RPR party.

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