Royal accused of gaffe over Quebec 'freedom'

23rd January 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 23, 2007 (AFP) - France's Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal was accused of making a new diplomatic gaffe Tuesday after she was rebuked by Canada's prime minister for reportedly supporting "freedom" for Quebec.

PARIS, Jan 23, 2007 (AFP) - France's Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal was accused of making a new diplomatic gaffe Tuesday after she was rebuked by Canada's prime minister for reportedly supporting "freedom" for Quebec.

In remarks that made headline news across Canada, Royal was quoted as saying after a meeting with Andre Boisclair, head of the pro-independence Parti Quebecois, that France and Quebec share common values, including "sovereignty and Quebec's freedom."

It prompted a sharp retort from Prime Minister Stephen Harper who said that "experience teaches that it is highly inappropriate for a foreign leader to interfere in the democratic affairs of another country."

Stephane Dion, of Canada's Liberal Party opposition, also rejected the remarks. "We do not interfere in the affairs of a friendly country. We do not wish for the dismantling of a friendly country," he said.

Quebec has twice held referendums on secession from Canada -- in 1980 and 1995 -- and on each occasion a majority has been opposed. Boisclair's party is committed to a new referendum if it takes power in Quebec in 2008.

Royal, 53, on Tuesday denied that she had deviated from the long-standing French policy of "neither interference nor indifference" in the affairs of Canada's largely French-speaking province.

Interviewed on Europe 1 radio, she said: "As in every democracy it is the voting public that is sovereign and free, and so the people of Quebec will freely decide their destiny at the appropriate time if they are asked to make a choice."

"It is not up to France to dictate to either the Quebecois or Canadians what they must do. On the contrary, the principles of sovereignty and freedom are I believe totally indisputable," she said.

It was not the first time Royal, 53, has come under fire for what her opponents say are diplomatic gaffes.

On a visit to the Middle East she was accused of condoning remarks by the Lebanese Hezbollah leader in which he compared Israel to Nazi Germany, and in Beijing she made controversial comments in praise of the Chinese system of justice.

She has also said that Iran does not have the right to develop civilian nuclear power -- even though that is not the position of France or the international community.

Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), said she was "surprised by the lack of seriousness with which Madame Royal takes international affairs."

"I am surprised that someone who wants to be the next president, and who should have in her entourage people who know these issues, that she can have such an attitude," Alliot-Marie said.

But Royal was supported by left-wing former interior minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement, who said she had merely reformulated the policy of every French leader since President Charles de Gaulle, who made a famous "Long live free Quebec" speech in 1967.

"France's position is that it will only recognise Quebec's sovereignty when the people of Quebec has opted for it in a referendum," Chevenement said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French News

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