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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2007, 13:27 GMT
Quebec 'gaffe' causes Royal grief
French Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal
Ms Royal made mistakes in China and Lebanon too, her critics say
French Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal has denied interfering in Canada's affairs, after she voiced apparent sympathy for Quebec's freedom.

Ms Royal told reporters on Monday she supported "sovereignty and liberty" for Quebec, prompting a rebuke from Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

She now says she meant that "the people who vote are sovereign and free".

Ties between mainly French-speaking Quebec and the rest of Canada are a major domestic political issue.

Ms Royal's reported comments, which made headline news in Canada, followed a brief meeting in Paris on Monday with the leader of the pro-independence Parti Quebecois, Andre Boisclair.

She said she and Mr Boisclair had common positions that included "the sovereignty and freedom of Quebec".

Reacting to Ms Royal's comments, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said: "Experience teaches that it is highly inappropriate for a foreign leader to interfere in the democratic affairs of another country."

On Tuesday, Ms Royal said her views had not deviated from the long-standing French policy of "neither interference nor indifference" in Quebec.

"What I said, which I confirm, is that in any democracy, the people who vote are sovereign and free"

The people of Quebec would freely decide their destiny if and when the time comes, she said.

Untested

It is not the first time that Ms Royal has been criticised for what opponents say are diplomatic gaffes.

On a visit to Lebanon in December, she was accused of condoning remarks by a Hezbollah leader who compared Israel's former occupation of Lebanon to that of the Nazis in France.

In Beijing, she said France's justice system could learn lessons from China, a country which has long been accused of abusing human rights.

Critics say that Ms Royal, who is largely untested in diplomatic affairs, tailors her remarks to please whomever she is speaking to.

Opinion polls put her behind her conservative opponent Nicolas Sarkozy, France's Interior Minister.


SEE ALSO
Canada backs Quebecer nationhood
28 Nov 06 |  Americas
Timeline: Canada
13 Dec 06 |  Country profiles
Profile: Segolene Royal
17 Nov 06 |  Europe

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