Royal rebuked for Quebec comments

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The French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal has extended her gaffe-strewn tour of international relations by saying she supports the "liberty and sovereignty" of Quebec, the French-speaking province of Canada.

After a rebuke from the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, Mme Royal, 53, protested yesterday that she had been misunderstood. She had said after meeting André Boisclair, leader of the pro-independence Parti Québécois, in Paris on Monday that she "shared with him" a belief in the "liberty and sovereignty" of Quebec. She said later she was not implying that Quebec should be independent of Canada, but that the people of Quebec had a right to choose.

Mme Royal, the Socialist candidate, has slipped slightly in the polls, and her main opponent, the centre-right candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, has accused her of being a political lightweight. She is struggling to respond to criticism within her own camp that her grassroots campaigning style is unsuited to a TV-dominated election.