Segolene in Beirut to kick off Mideast tour

30th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

BEIRUT, Nov 30, 2006 (AFP) - French Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, campaigning to become her country's first woman head of state, arrived in Beirut on Thursday at the start of a Middle East tour.

BEIRUT, Nov 30, 2006 (AFP) - French Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, campaigning to become her country's first woman head of state, arrived in Beirut on Thursday at the start of a Middle East tour.

Royal's arrival comes on the eve of a demonstration called by the opposition, led by the powerful pro-Syrian militant group Hezbollah, to force the resignation of the Western-backed government.

France, which continues to have strong relations with Lebanon after the end of its mandate over the country in 1943, co-wrote a 2004 UN Security Council resolution calling on Syrian troops to leave Lebanon and for militias — indluding Hezbollah — to be disarmed.

Former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri — whose February 2005 killing led eventually to the exit in March of Syrian troops from Lebanon — was among foreign dignitaries most often received by French President Jacques Chirac.

In a statement ahead of her arrival, Royal said "I want to find out for myself about the reality in Lebanon and see what role France can play in helping Lebanon out of the current crisis."

"In the current, worrying situation in Lebanon, I am here to affirm my condemnation of any political assassination and my faith in democracy, and to convey my friendship to the entire Lebanese people."

Royal was received at Beirut airport by anti-Syrian Druze leader MP Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party who had invited her to Lebanon, as well as Information Minister Ghazi Aridi and Telecommunication Minister Marwan Hamadeh, an AFP photographer said.

Royal was due to meet with Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and the pro-Syrian parliament speaker Nabih Berri, and will also be received by the parliament's foreign affairs committee later Thursday.

On Friday, she is to visit the former Lebanese president Amine Gemayel, whose son Pierre Gemayel, a Christian Lebanese cabinet minister, was gunned down last week, to present her condolences to the family.

Also Friday, she will meet members of the UN force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, to which France is the largest contributor with 1,650 out of a total of 10,500 troops.

Royal said her meeting with members of the UNIFIL force was meant to "show them our support and gratitude".

"A more credible UNIFIL is a factor for stabilisation and peace for Lebanon and the region," she said.

Royal's trip is due to take her to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan, with top-level meetings scheduled with leaders across the region, according to her press office.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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