France-Mexico row deepens over prisoner

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France and Mexico dug in deeper Tuesday in a developing row over an incarcerated Frenchwoman that already has prompted furious Mexican officials to cancel long-planned cultural events in France.

On Monday, officials here canceled Year of Mexico celebrations in France, after French President Nicolas Sarkozy dedicated them to the Frenchwoman, Florence Cassez, jailed in Mexico on kidnapping charges.

The two countries are locked in a diplomatic tussle over Cassez that showed no signs of easing.

French Foreign Minister Michele Alliote-Marie on Tuesday told lawmakers in Paris her government "will not abandon" Cassez and will continue to demand she be brought to France.

Cassez, 36, last week lost an appeal against her conviction and 60-year sentence she has been serving for the past five years.

Her family and supporters had been hoping that a revelation that Mexican authorities staged her arrest for the media the day after she was really apprehended would be found to have tainted her original conviction.

The judges rejected that argument, however, saying it had no effect on the verdict.

Vallarta has admitted guilt and said Cassez was innocent, but the appeals court said there was testimony from kidnap victims implicating Cassez.

France reacted strongly to the verdict, with Alliot-Marie calling it a "denial of justice" whose repercussions would be felt in bilateral ties.

She said she would summon the Mexican ambassador to France to express her displeasure.

Mexico angrily rejected her claims as interference in its justice system. Its ambassador, Carlos de Icaza, said the Mexican judiciary had "absolute independence."

The Mexican government also summoned the French ambassador to Mexico, Daniel Parfait, to be scolded by Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa.

Sarkozy took the dispute up a notch Monday when he said he was dedicating the Year of Mexico celebrations to start this month in France -- a program of 350 cultural, economic and touristic events -- to Cassez.

Mexico was furious at the move, and said it was canceling the entire program.

"In light of the declarations by President Nicolas Sarkozy, the government of Mexico considers that the conditions for the Year of Mexico in France do not exist for its properly declared purpose," said a government statement.

"Unfortunately, the government of Mexico will not be able to participate in these activities," it said.

Notable exhibitions being yanked included a loaned collection of jade Maya masks that were to have inaugurated the program February 28, and artworks by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera that were to have gone on display in October.

Sarkozy already interceded in the case two years ago, when he asked his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderon, to transfer Cassez to France to serve her sentence. The request was rejected.

Sarkozy said Monday he would be renewing that request.

The row over Cassez is bad timing for the French president.

Mexico is due to take over the leadership of the G20 economic grouping from France next year, and the French president will need Calderon's help in pushing one of his top priorities, reforming the international monetary system.

© 2011 AFP

1 Comment To This Article

  • CD posted:

    on 15th February 2011, 21:07:03 - Reply

    Have the French government listen to the people that was kidnapped?, I think the French government should listen to them.
    If this girl Cassez was doing bad things in other countries, then she must be punished and jailed in that country. There is nothing that French government can do. She was a KIDNAPER, and we are sick of that people. If she says she is innocent, then why was she getting together with those other guys?, if you live with wolves you become a wolf and/or start to beheave like them, and soon you learn to bark. Also, French people, do you want to have a Kidnapper in your society, and freely walking in the streets????