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Last Updated:  Thursday, 10 April, 2003, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
France hails 'fall of Saddam'
Jacques Chirac
Mr Chirac said humanitarian aid was now the priority
French President Jacques Chirac has welcomed the crumbling of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq.

He said he hoped the fighting in the country would end soon.

"France, like all democracies, expresses satisfaction at the fall of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and hopes for a quick and effective end to the fighting," the president's office said in a statement.

"It is necessary now to create conditions that would return to the Iraqi people their dignity in rediscovered freedom."

Together, we now have to build peace in Iraq and for France that means the United Nations must play a central role
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin
He also stressed the urgency of delivering humanitarian aid and the importance of UN involvement in the post-war phase.

Mr Chirac led the camp of countries opposed to an attack on Iraq without UN backing, straining relations with the US and UK.

'King without crown'

BBC correspondent Emma Jane Kirby, in Paris, says that many French people, who believed this was an illegal and hot-headed war, have been stunned by the welcome American forces received in Baghdad on Wednesday.

French media have warned that President Chirac is now threatened with isolation on the international stage.

The left-wing Liberation newspaper said he had become the "king of peace without a crown".

Our correspondent says France fears the US will cut it out of contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq for failing to back the coalition.

In the last two weeks France and a number of other European countries have been vocal in their insistence that the UN, rather than the US, should play the lead role in the political and economic reconstruction of Iraq.

Disunited Europe

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said on Thursday that France was delighted "at the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime".

"Together, we now have to build peace in Iraq and for France that means the United Nations must play a central role," he said.

US President George Bush said on Tuesday that the United Nations would play a "vital role" in "all aspects" of post-war Iraq, but gave few details.

On Friday Mr Chirac will meet the other two main European opponents of the war - Germany's Gerhard Schroeder and Russia's Vladimir Putin - in St Petersburg.

Then at an EU summit in Athens on Wednesday European leaders will be discussing how best to help post-war Iraq - and trying to smooth over the cracks in the EU's common defence and security policy.



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