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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 January 2007, 05:05 GMT
Royal caught out by hoax caller
Segolene Royal
Segolene Royal is trailing Nicolas Sarkozy in the polls
French presidential candidate Segolene Royal has been lured into another gaffe by a comedian during a hoax call.

Prankster Gerald Dahan pretended to be the premier of Quebec. During their conversation, Ms Royal said most French would back independence for Corsica.

A series of blunders by Ms Royal, notably on foreign policy issues, are seen as having undermined her campaign.

However, her camp again alleged dirty tricks, claiming the call was set up by allies of her rival Nicolas Sarkozy.

Royal is a novice, her only hope is to learn fast
Vincent Verschoore, Cluny, France

Patrick Mennucci, the deputy director of Ms Royal's campaign, accused the Sarkozy camp of launching "stink bombs".

"We think that it was all a set up by [Mr Sarkozy's party] the UMP. Dahan is obviously affiliated to the UMP. He has taken part in several meetings of this organisation," Mr Mennucci said.

But another Royal aide played the gaffe down. "Jokes happen. We should treat these things with a pinch of salt," said Jack Lang.

'No joke'

Mr Dahan put on a Quebecois accent and played the part of the Canadian province's leader, Jean Charest.

During the call, he said offering support for Quebec's independence was like backing Corsica's secession from France.

"The French people wouldn't be opposed to the idea," Ms Royal replied.

The Socialist candidate added, with a laugh: "But don't repeat that or we'll have another scandal on our hands."

French comedian Gerald Dahan
Gerald Dahan is famous for his hoax telephone calls

Mr Sarkozy, France's interior minister, who has taken a hard line against Corsican separatists, was quick to respond.

"For me, Corsica isn't a joke... It is the Republic," he said.

While Ms Royal's remark was obviously made light-heartedly, it appears to confirm the impression that she is not safe on big issues, especially foreign ones, says the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris.

Her comments on Quebec drew a rebuke from the Canadian prime minister; she has been criticised for praising the Chinese justice system; and she guessed wrongly the number of nuclear submarines in the French navy.

She is trailing Mr Sarkozy in the polls, but has claimed he is fighting a dirty campaign.

The Socialists allege the interior minister ordered intelligence agents to dig dirt on a member of Ms Royal's team, and made false accusations about her tax arrangements.

Feted Sarkozy faces tough task
14 Jan 07 |  Europe
Profile: Segolene Royal
17 Nov 06 |  Europe
Profile: Nicolas Sarkozy
28 Nov 04 |  Europe

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