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Presidential candidate Segolene Royal visits French forces in southern Lebanon

Presidential candidate Segolene Royal visits French forces in southern Lebanon

French presidential candidate Segolene Royal, wading into the Lebanese crisis during a Middle East tour to test her foreign policy mettle, called Friday for an international conference to stabilize Lebanon.
Royal visited French forces in southern Lebanon on the second day of her Middle East tour aimed at showing voters back home that she is equipped to represent France in the international arena.
Her visit coincided with a massive demonstration of flag-waving Hezbollah supporters in the capital. The peaceful but noisy protest was called to try to force the resignation of Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, who was holed up in his office ringed by hundreds of police and combat troops.
Royal, a former family and environment minister, said an international conference on Lebanon, a former French protectorate, should be organized quickly.
"We see here on the ground that if political initiatives are not taken to stabilize the situation, then economic aide won't be effective," the Socialist Party's presidential candidate said.
A donor's conference is also to be held in Paris in January to raise funds for reconstruction following the summer war between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah.
Royal, 53, spoke after meeting with the head of the U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon, Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini, at their headquarters in the southern coastal town of Naqoura and visiting the French contingent nearby.
She also said she would ask Israel to end overflights of Lebanese territory, "in the interests of Israel and the interests of Lebanon," when she travels to Israel on Sunday.
Israel has rebuffed U.N. and Lebanese demands to halt the flights, saying they are vital intelligence-gathering missions.
However, Israel's Foreign Ministry said last month that it wanted the air force to reduce the number of flights over Lebanon, saying some are an unnecessary provocation of U.N. forces there.
The French contingent of U.N. forces monitoring the cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah came near to firing on Israeli planes that were in attack position on one occasion, officials have said.
Royal is also to visit the Palestinian areas, where President Mahmoud Abbas' efforts to forge a more moderate unity government with the militant Hamas have deadlocked.
Royal has captured the hearts of a section of the French population by successfully portraying herself as someone who cares about domestic concerns and their daily lives. But she is having to work to counter critics who say she has no credibility in the harsh realities of foreign affairs.
She is likely to face off with France's savvy interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, in the April 2007 presidential vote. The conservative Sarkozy was expected to be officially anointed candidate for his Union for a Popular Movement in January.
Royal traveled by helicopter from Beirut to southern Lebanon to avoid any disruption because of the massive protest by Lebanon's Hezbollah and its pro-Syrian allies, who are demanding the ousting of the country's Western-backed prime minister.
Royal dismissed calls for her to leave Beirut because of the mounting tensions, which threatened to bring Beirut to a halt.
She was holding a news conference later Friday.
Royal was visiting Lebanon at the invitation of former President Amin Gemayel, father of Pierre Gemayel, the industry minister who was assassinated last week.


Updated : 2021-10-24 23:16 GMT+08:00