French PM wades into a tide of anti-Americanism

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The Independent Online
The Prime Minister of France, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, is expected to make a statement today denouncing anti-Americanism and making it clear that France is "on the side of democracy" in the Iraq war.</p>Although the French government remains convinced that the war is unjustified and probably illegal, M. Raffarin has been alarmed by signs of growing anti-American and anti-Semitic feeling at anti-war demonstrations in Paris and other French cities.</p>He has also been disturbed by an opinion poll earlier this week that suggested one in four French people was on the side of the Iraqi government and one in three would prefer to see a victory for Saddam Hussein. Other commentators suggested that the poll ⓠshowing a majority of French people (53 per cent) wanted to see an American victory, despite 78 per cent opposition to the war ⓠwas nothing to worry about.</p>They pointed out that the far left and the far right in France ⓠboth habitually anti-American and blindly pro-Iraqi for many years ⓠadded up to about 30 per cent of the electorate. Seen in this light, the 33 per cent "on the whole supporting Iraq" was not such a surprising total, they said.</p>None the less, M. Raffarin is expected to restate today, in stronger terms, comments that he made earlier this week rejecting any suggestion that France is aligned with Iraq against the US and Britain.</p>In Clermont-Ferrand on Monday, M. Raffarin said: "We think this war was the wrong choice ... but that is no reason to mistake our enemy. The Americans are not our enemy. We are in the camp of democracy."</p>Some French commentators have drawn attention to the fact that this statement was made by M. Raffarin, who rarely takes positions on foreign policy issues, rather than by President Jacques Chirac, who personally directed French pre-war policy and made the decision that France would veto a pro-war resolution in the United Nations.</p>The centre-left newspaper Libération</i> said there had been "radio silence" from the Elysée Palace since the war began. Elysée officials said no statement by M. Chirac was planned but that the President agreed with M. Raffarin and had "always denounced the dictatorial regime in Iraq".</p>Extra concern has been raised by the daubing of anti-war and anti-British slogans on a monument at a British First World War cemetery at Etaples, near Boulogne, last week.</p>French officials have condemned the desecration but dismissed it as a one-off incident, probably the responsibility of the far right.</p>Overall, French public opinion remains resolutely anti-war and thankful that France is not involved. Away from the political extremes, French people are as ambivalent as many of the anti-war moderates in Britain and other countries. The overall view seems to be that the war should never have started but now that it has, the best outcome would be a short war and a victory for America and Britain.</p>In a poll published in Le Monde</i>, 78 per cent of French people said they disapproved of the war. Sixty-five per cent said they thought the conflict was America's fault. Only 34 per cent said they felt "on the whole on the American and British side". Twenty-five per cent said they were on Iraq's side and 31 per cent said they felt no sympathy for either side.</p>However, 53 per cent of French people said that "au fond d'eux-mêmes" (in the depths of their heart) they wanted America and Britain to win. Although there have been few visible signs of anti-Americanism in France so far, officials said M. Raffarin had been disturbed by a minority of viciously anti-American and anti-Semitic slogans and banners on recent marches against the war. </p>