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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 January 2007, 15:10 GMT
France's Royal suspends spokesman
Segolene Royal (l) and suspended spokesman Arnaud Montebourg
Mr Montebourg (r) said he had made the remarks as a joke
French Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal has suspended her personal spokesman over comments he made referring to her partner.

Arnaud Montebourg said Ms Royal's only liability was her husband - Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande.

The comments were made during a live television programme on Wednesday night and Mr Montebourg offered to resign the following morning.

He said his comments were an attempt at humour which were misinterpreted.

In the spotlight

The apparent gaffe comes as a new opinion poll suggested that her opponent of the centre-right, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, would narrowly win a second-round run-off against Ms Royal.

Ms Royal has accused Mr Sarkozy's aides of dirty tricks.

It centred on accusations circulating on the internet that she and her partner had taken steps to avoid paying wealth tax on their properties.

She said Mr Sarkozy's camp was running a "thuggish" election campaign, using the evocative French word "racaille" to describe the tactics.

The word has been translated as "thugs", "filth" or even "scum" and caused a furore when it was used by Mr Sarkozy to describe mainly ethnic-minority rioters in the suburbs.

Mr Hollande is taking legal action for defamation against an MP from the governing UMP party over the claims.

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