Socialist presidential hopefuls hold last TV debate

8th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 7, 2006 (AFP) - Candidates for the Socialist nomination in the French presidential race held their last televised debate late Tuesday ahead of their party's nomination vote, with the favourite Segolene Royal fending off a growing challenge from her two rivals.

PARIS, Nov 7, 2006 (AFP) - Candidates for the Socialist nomination in the French presidential race held their last televised debate late Tuesday ahead of their party's nomination vote, with the favourite Segolene Royal fending off a growing challenge from her two rivals.

Royal, Laurent Fabius and Dominique Strauss-Kahn defended their views on foreign affairs, particularly the thorny issue of Turkey's EU membership bid, Franco-US relations, Iran's controversial nuclear programme, and the situation in Iraq.

It was the third and final debate in front of television cameras, and, as with the previous ones, the format was non-confrontational, with each speaker talking directly to the viewers, not to each other.

Fabius, a 60-year-old former prime minister, and Strauss-Kahn, a 57-year-old former economy minister, hoped the series of debates had highlighted their experience to Royal's disadvantage before the party's vote on November 16.

They both believe they stand a chance of forcing a second, knockout round of voting on November 23 that could eject Royal, 53, and propel one of them into the presidential election.

On Turkey, Strauss-Kahn maintained his view that Turkey should one day join the European Union. Fabius stood firm in his opposition, saying: "For Turkey, the honest solution is to propose a privileged partnership."

Royal, who had previously been vague on the issue, showed her scepticism, saying there should be a "pause" in EU expansion.

If Turkey fulfils conditions for membership -- "and that is not currently the case" -- then France's president will be obliged to call a referendum on whether to allow its accession, she said.

In that hypothesis, "the position of the head of state would be for membership -- but the people could decide differently," and in that case the president would have to bow to that, she said.

On Iran, the three candidates expressed the same opposition to the Islamic republic pursuing its plans to enrich uranium for its contentious nuclear programme, sharing fears in the West that the process could be used to build an atomic arsenal.

The three also said they wanted France to continue to be a key ally to the United States, but one that would maintain its independence in policy decisions and forge relationships with other countries.

Royal implicitly criticised the current US administration's political-military stance by saying "we cannot accept the concept of preventive war nor succumb to the temptation of unilateralism."

On the issue of Iraq, specifically, Fabius and Strauss-Kahn were in agreement on the need for US troops there to progressively withdraw, with the latter saying "the US presence perpetuates tensions", while Fabius said he would have opposed the 2003 US-led invasion as did current President Jacques Chirac.

Royal avoided discussing the question of a US withdrawal, preferring to say that the international community needs to help the Iraqis build up their democracy and saying any success would be solely due to their effort.

In the debate, Royal contrasted with her rivals both by her white dress next to their sombre dark suits, and often flashing her smile.

Polls continue to suggest that she is the only Socialist candidate who can beat the likely right-wing contender, current Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, 51, in next April's election.

An IFOP survey released late Tuesday showed that 44 percent of voters of all political stripes thought Royal would make the best French president, ahead of Strauss-Kahn on 39 percent and Fabius on 11 percent.

However there remains considerable uncertainty over how the 200,000 card-carrying Socialist Party members will vote in just over a week.

Under party rules, if Royal fails to reach 50 percent of the vote, there will be a two-way run-off a week later with the leading rival -- Strauss-Kahn or Fabius -- whose results will be hard to predict.

Royal's opponents were heartened when she was booed during a non-televised debate before party-members in Paris two weeks ago, and Strauss-Kahn in particular has narrowed the gap with Royal, surveys show.

On Thursday the candidates meet for a final debate in the southern city of Toulouse, in which no cameras are permitted.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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