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French President Nicolas Sarkozy, perhaps more than any world leader apart from Barack Obama, can take a deeply personal satisfaction from the death of Col. Moammar Gadhafi and the triumph of Libyan rebels.

Libya seemed to haunt his presidency in the most bizarre way, providing one of its first foreign policy successes and then one of its first embarrassments.

It was Mr. Sarkozy, freshly elected in the spring of 2007, who decided to inject himself into the strange case of the five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor imprisoned by Col. Gadhafi for nearly eight years on charges of infecting Libyans with HIV.

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His personal diplomacy – some called it unseemly grandstanding – wooed the dictator into releasing the medical staff. He even dispatched his then-wife, Cecilia Sarkozy, to Tripoli twice to seal the deal. Two weeks later, France had more than $400-million in new military contracts from Col. Gadhafi.

In December of that year, the Libyan leader got his reward and President Sarkozy suffered his first humiliation on the world stage.



Col. Gadhafi swept into Paris on a state visit, his first in more than 30 years, and scandalized the French by pitching a Bedouin-style tent outside the luxurious official guest house near the Elysée Palace. It happened to be World Human Rights day.

Diplomats gritted their teeth. French human rights activists, including two government ministers, howled. So did the well-organized families of victims of the 1989 French airliner bombing over Niger that was blamed on Col. Gadhafi.

Redemption, revenge perhaps, for being played by the Libyan strongman, came this year.

President Sarkozy was the first world leader to recognize the rebel leadership as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people, back on March 10. That was less than a month after protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi fought back when fired on by government troops.

He was roundly chided by other European leaders who, with the exception of British Prime Minister David Cameron, then cold-shouldered his proposal for military strikes and enforcement of a no-fly zone to back the Libyan uprising.

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But the French president's persistence is credited with pushing the United Nations, the American administration and finally NATO into creating what became an eight-month campaign of bombings, training and surveillance on behalf of the rebels.

The ending is sweet for President Sarkozy. "This is a personal victory for him and for France," said Rama Yade, who was a junior minister for human rights in 2007 and lost her job after criticizing Col. Gadhafi's visit.

"In the end," she told Europe 1 radio today, "France can be proud."

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