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French advised to quit Iraq

Published on 13/04/2004

PARIS, April 13 (AFP) - The French government on Tuesday advised its citizens in Iraq to leave the country, with Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin saying that the situation there had developed "as we had feared".

“In the current difficult climate, I call on all French citizens presently in Iraq to come home and I ask all those who are planning a trip to Iraq in the days to come to put that off,” Raffarin told parliament.

The announcement came amid a spate of kidnappings of foreigners in Iraq by insurgents opposed to the US-led occupation. None of the hostages was French.

France, which was opposed to the US invasion of Iraq, has no troops among the occupying forces.

Raffarin said his government was “extremely worried” by the developments in Iraq, which he said had “developed as we had feared since the start of the crisis, as the president of the Republic had feared.”

Some French citizens are in Iraq as aid workers, employees involved in reconstruction projects, diplomats and journalists.

A foreign ministry spokesman, Herve Ladsous, told reporters that there were “a little fewer than a hundred French people” in Iraq and that the French interests section in the country was in permanent contact with them.

The spokesman said France “renews its categoric condemnation of the hostage-taking of foreign civilians in Iraq – actions that are totally unacceptable and which must be halted immediately and unconditionally.”

He said France also supported a Red Cross appeal for international humanitarian law in Iraq to be observed by all parties, “notably where it concerns the respect of civilian populations and the free access to medical establishments.”

Raffarin said the “especially noticeable worsening” of the situation, particularly the climbing death toll and the hostage-taking, made the country too hostile for French citizens with non-essential duties to stay.

“Our country intends to participate in the search for a lasting solution,” he said, adding that such a plan would have to involve returning power to the Iraqis and ensuring the country does not break apart on religious or ethnic lines.

France, he said, “has not budged one iota from its propositions…. France is committed to peace in Iraq, it always has been and always will be.”

                                                                 Subject: French news