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May 29, 2011

French Finance Minister in Brazil, Seeking Support for IMF Candidacy

by Lisa Bryant

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde is in Brazil Monday to solicit support from emerging economies for her bid to be the next head of the International Monetary Fund.

With solid backing for her IMF candidacy from Europe, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde is off to conquer a more skeptical audience - emerging countries who have been calling for the next head of the International Monetary Fund to be one of their own.

Lagarde's first stop is Brazil. But in an interview Sunday with France's Europe 1 radio, she outlined plans to also visit China, India and several African nations.

Lagarde said she was visiting these emerging countries because they have expressed anxiety and frustration over having their interests recognized at the highest levels of multilateral organizations, and about the fact the IMF directorship has traditionally gone to a European.

But the only declared emerging country candidate to date is Mexico's central bank governor Agustin Carstens, who visits Brazil on Wednesday.

Europeans argue a fellow national at the head of the IMF right now is critical, as the 17-nation eurozone struggles to cope with the financial problems in Portugal, Greece, Spain and Ireland.

French officials also say they received the backing of all G8 leaders who attended last week's summit in the Normandy coast town of Deauville. While Washington has not publicly backed a candidate, French President Nicolas Sarkozy broadly suggested President Barack Obama was behind Lagarde.

Speaking to reporters in Deauville on Friday, Sarkozy said he was not President Obama's spokesman but that he saw Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement welcoming Lagarde's candidacy, and said he doubted there was a disagreement between the two American officials.

If picked, Lagarde would replace another Frenchman, Dominique Strauss Kahn, who resigned earlier this month over charges of sexual assault. Lagarde faces criticism here in France over a 2008 legal settlement favoring a French businessman. She says she did nothing wrong.

The IMF is expected to announce the candidates for its top post by June 17 and select its next managing director by June 30.