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Brothers embarrass France's justice minister

The legal troubles of two brothers of France's justice minister are embarrassing the former poor immigrant's child, whose ascent into government has fascinated the nation, but they are unlikely to tarnish her political star.

Rachida Dati's brother Omar is to face trial on drugs charges in November, a prosecutor said on Wednesday, a day after an appeals court sentenced another of her 11 siblings, Jamal, to a year in prison for consuming and selling heroin.

Analysts say this will not spoil the minister's success.

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"It's not her. It's about people that might be close to her ... it should have no bearing on her ability to do her job," said Hall Gardner of the American University of Paris.

Ms. Dati, a trained judge, was hardly known to most French when President Nicolas Sarkozy appointed her after his May election, but she has since been labelled a showcase member of his ethnically diverse government.

Ms. Dati remains popular, with 53 per cent of French wanting a more important role for her, a recent TNS Sofres poll showed. Analysts say she benefits from the immense popularity of her sponsor, Mr. Sarkozy.

"Her image is very much associated to that of Sarkozy. It's Sarkozy who has offered her a portfolio and visibility," said Francois Miquet-Marty from pollster LH2, adding Ms. Dati had even joined the president's family on a holiday in the United States.

Newspapers have savoured every detail of how the daughter of a Moroccan bricklayer and an illiterate Algerian housewife financed her studies by selling face creams door-to-door and by working as a night nurse.

Three books on the youthful 41-year old, who almost always carries a bright smile, are coming out in the next few weeks amid increasing French interest in politicians' private lives.

Ms. Dati is also a close friend of the president's wife, Cecilia, media say.

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"It's a proximity which means that her political destiny is very much linked to that of Sarkozy," Mr. Miquet-Marty said.

Ms. Dati has not only had to deal with family troubles in recent weeks. Her crime bill, which imposes tougher sentences for repeat offenders, has been attacked by some magistrates, and the departure of several of her aides raised eyebrows.

Mr. Sarkozy, whose popularity rates slipped slightly over the past month but still run at 61 per cent, has said he imposed Ms. Dati as minister against many of his own friends.

"(Only) Cecilia and Claude Gueant (secretary-general at the presidential palace) agreed to her nomination," Mr. Sarkozy was quoted as saying by La Provence daily this week.

Mr. Sarkozy surprised many French when he appointed a diverse government, also including members of the Socialist opposition.

Ms. Dati has called on journalists not to draw on her past, but also said: "The French expect a lot more from someone like me".

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Asked about her brother Jamal's court case last month, she told French radio: "All families go through difficult times, difficult events, difficult phases."

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