Sun, Jan 28, 2007 - Page 6 News List

French presidential candidate falls for phone prank

CORSICA BLUNDER Segolene Royal has been tripped up on several occasions by off-the-cuff remarks, notably concerning issues of diplomacy such as on Quebec


An imitator known for phone pranks on public figures tricked Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal into thinking she was talking to the premier of Quebec, prankster Gerald Dahan said on Friday. However, the result was not a simple laugh.

Remarks Royal made about the French Mediterranean island of Corsica during the fake phone call on Wednesday compounded a statement she made about Quebec earlier in the week that drew a rebuke from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

A partial recording of the latest blunder was aired.

Using his best Quebec accent, Dahan pretended to be Quebec Premier Jean Charest and managed, he said, to keep Royal on the phone for 11 full minutes. He notably evoked her remark on Monday about "the sovereignty and liberty of Quebec" during a meeting with the head of the Parti Quebecois, which wants Quebec to secede from Canada.

The impression in Canada, Dahan said, "is as if we said, `Well, Corsica, it should be independent.'"

To that, a laughing Royal replied that not all French "would be against that." She quickly added: "Don't repeat that. It will just create another incident ... in France."

Corsica has posed problems to successive governments because of a bombing campaign by separatists.

Royal's main competitor, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, was the first to respond this time, saying that if her remark was simply a joke it was nevertheless "in bad taste."

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

The head of Corsica's Assembly, Camille de Rocca-Serra -- a conservative -- said: "Even if Mrs Royal's words are the fruit of a humorous gag, I don't think Corsicans will take it with humor."

Royal, former family and environment minister, has been tripped up on several occasions by off-the-cuff remarks, notably concerning issues of diplomacy. Sarkozy's camp has used these verbal blunders to argue that she lacks the diplomatic skills needed by a president.

The Socialist candidate, currently campaigning in the French Antilles, did not respond directly to the revelation, first made public in Friday's Le Parisien, a daily.

Dahan -- who once fooled French soccer great Zinedine Zidane into thinking he was talking with President Jacques Chirac -- entertained at a rally of conservatives with Sarkozy last month. However, the minister's entourage claimed he is not part of the candidate's inner circle.

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