Sat, Feb 07, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Quebec separatists last out over French president’s remark

AP , QUEBEC CITY, CANADA

The two top leaders of Quebec’s independence movement slammed French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday for indirectly criticizing their cause earlier this week.

At a ceremony in Paris to honor Quebec Premier Jean Charest, Sarkozy expressed his distaste for sectarian governments, without actually naming Quebec separatists.

“Do you really believe that the world, with the unprecedented crisis that it is going through, needs division, needs hatred?” the French president asked.

“Those who do not understand that, I don’t think they have understood the message of the Francophonie, the universal values we hold in Quebec as in France — the rejection of bigotry, the rejection of division, the rejection of self-confinement, the refusal to define one’s identity through fierce opposition to another,” Sarkozy said.

During a news conference on Thursday, the leader of the federal Bloc Quebecois party Gilles Duceppe responded to Sarkozy’s comments, saying they were unacceptable.

“We cannot accept that a leader — regardless of who he is — makes such a statement about millions of Quebecers,” said Duceppe, whose party favors Quebec’s separation from Canada.

The four-page letter, sent on Wednesday via Canada’s ambassador to France, is signed by both Duceppe and provincial Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois. It marks the first time in the 40-year history of Quebec’s sovereignty movement that the separatist parties have sent a letter of complaint to a foreign leader.

Duceppe and Marois are not asking for an apology, but said they want to inform Sarkozy that Quebec sovereignty is not about disdain for Canada.

“Never has a head of state shown such a lack of respect towards the more than 2 million Quebecers who consider themselves sovereigntists,” the leaders wrote.

They said Sarkozy was wrong to suggest the independence movement in the French-­speaking province is not inclusive and open.

“We are not sectarian, we are not closed in on ourselves, we do not detest Canada,” Marois said. “We want to live in better harmony, and sovereignty would allow us to establish links and a better relationship with the rest of Canada.”

There was no official response from France yesterday.

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