President Asif Ali Zardari visited his family's stately home in the French countryside Tuesday, as critics in his flood-ravaged homeland slammed his European "joy ride". A French air force helicopter deposited Zardari in the grounds of the Manoir de la Reine Blanche (Manor of the White Queen) for a two hour stopover in the 16th-century chateau, built for the widow of King Philippe VI.
Journalists were kept at a distance from the elegant property, which is surrounded by two hectares (five acres) of lakes and wooded parkland and is listed on France's register of historically significant monuments. The house has belonged to Zardari's family for 24 years and the president's father, Hakim Ali Zardari, is a regular summer visitor.
"He's a neighbour with whom we have excellent relations," said local mayor Jerome Grisel, who owns a farm immediately adjoining the estate. But while the family is popular in Normandy, many back home in Pakistan are angered by Zardari's decision to spend a week in Europe at a time when monsoon flooding has killed 1,500 people and affected 3.5 million more.
"Two young girls in my immediate neighbourhood drowned in the flood waters," declared 40-year-old Sher Khan, one of many in Majuky Faqirabad who hit out when AFP reporters visited flood-hit northern valleys. "Zardari should visit the flood-hit areas and take steps for welfare of the stranded people instead of taking joy rides to France and UK."