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French Leaders Divided Over Response to Terrorist Attacks - 2001-10-03


Politicking for French legislative and presidential elections had been on hold since the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York. However, that appeared to change Wednesday, as a parliamentary debate turned to the appropriate French response to terrorism. The debate included many of the likely presidential candidates in next year's election.

For the first time since the September 11 strikes on the United States, French lawmakers debated Wednesday how France should respond to the battle against terrorism.

Until now, conservative and leftist politicians have largely been united in condemning the terrorist attacks and sympathizing with its victims. French authorities now say, that they too are convinced that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks. The United States says Mr. bin Laden is the prime suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

During the Wednesday debate at the French National Assembly, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin announced that France had agreed to open its airspace to possible U.S. military operations in retaliation for the attacks, and that France will cooperate with U.S. naval operations in the Indian Ocean.

But Prime Minister Jospin appeared reluctant to use the word "war" in describing Western retaliation to terrorism. He is considered the likely rival of French President Jacques Chirac in next year's presidential elections.

But it has been Mr. Chirac who has captured the most media attention in recent weeks. Political commentators say he burnished his presidential image by becoming the first foreign leader to visit America after the attacks. And the French president eventually described the situation as a "war."

During the parliamentary debate, former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing said "war" was not an appropriate expression for the fight against terrorism. Mr. Giscard d'Estaing has not ruled out running for president next year.

For his part, Communist Party leader Robert Hue, who is part of Mr. Jospin's government, said he opposed French participation in a major U.S. military campaign. Mr. Hue, who is also running for president, said it should be up to the United Nations to decide on possible military retaliation against the September attacks.

By contrast, some conservative politicians are calling for a stronger French alignment with the United States. That includes Alain Madelin, president of France's Liberal Democratic party - and another candidate for the presidency.

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