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Canada's PM faces trial for assault

Ottawa (Reuter) - Canada's Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, who grabbed a labour protester by the jaw during a public event in February, was charged yesterday with assault, a court official said.

Judge Pierre Chevalier, in Hull, Quebec, where the scuffle took place, set a court date of 6 June. The charges carry a penalty of up to pounds 1,000 and/or six months in prison.

The Canadian Press news agency quoted a provincial prosecutor, Georges Benoit, as saying that the Prime Minister would not necessarily have to appear in person.

Kenneth Russell, an unemployed New Brunswick man who was not involved in the clash brought the charges and the demonstrator who confronted Mr Chretien, Bill Clennett, said he supported the move, the agency said.

Mr Clennett, from Quebec, said he lost a bridge and a crown to Mr Chretien's iron grip. He did not press charges himself, but said he thought that the authorities should charge the Prime Minister.

The image of an angry Mr Chretien pushing Mr Clennett aside topped Canada's front pages and television broadcasts. Many Canadians in English-speaking areas, applauded the event, while many in Quebec expressed outrage.

However, Mr Chretien joked about the event on Saturday at a raucous annual dinner with the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.