French President gets a taste of British steel

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For the second time in three days a British city draped itself in red- white-and-blue tricolours yesterday to welcome a celebrated Frenchman.

The reception given to M Cantona in Manchester on Sunday was a touch more raucous and spontaneous. But the reception given to M Chirac in London yesterday scored heavily on symbolism, pomp and grandeur. Le Roi Eric had to make do with an open-topped double- decker; President Jacques Chirac rode in an open carriage with the Queen along a tricolour-festooned Mall to Buckingham Palace.

Once there, royal symbolism gave way to political symbolism. President Chirac, and his wife Bernadette, sat down to a state luncheon of British beef. The Palace was at pains to point out, however, that the symbolism went only so far. Contrary to the assertions of certain Euro- phobic newspapers, the Queen did not serve her guest Beef Wellington. The menu was Filet de Boeuf aux Nouilles Proven-cales.

President Chirac arrived by a scheduled Eurostar Channel tunnel train at Waterloo for a three-day state visit, the first by a French President for 12 years.

He will hold two hours of talks with the Prime Minister, John Major, at Downing Street today, when beef will again be on the agenda.

The President will address both Houses of Parliament today. He is expected to assault British Euro-scepticism head on, urging the Government to join the single European currency in 1999 and stating that Europe needs Britain and that Britain - like it or not - needs Europe. Tomorrow, he flies to Glasgow with the Prince of Wales, to visit urban re-generation projects on the notorious Easterhouse housing estate.

Mr Chirac was greeted at Waterloo by Princess Margaret and driven to Horse Guards Parade for the formal reception by the Queen.

The President's arrival at Horse Guards was marked by a rousing performance of the cancan by the 19th-century Parisian composer Offenbach. Some members of the London French community, invited to attend the ceremony, appeared bemused by this choice. Others were just amused.

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