French left takes aim at Sarkozy on Afghan troops

Thu Mar 27, 2008 11:33am EDT
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PARIS (Reuters) - Leaders of France's opposition Socialist Party criticized President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday for offering to send more troops to Afghanistan and for making the controversial announcement in the British parliament.

Sarkozy made a rare address by a foreign head of state to Britain's parliament on Wednesday and promised to send additional soldiers to fight the Taliban if NATO backed his proposal for a broader, coordinated Afghan strategy.

France already has some 1,500 troops in Afghanistan and the Socialists have demanded a parliamentary debate in Paris before any more soldiers are sent there.

"What surprised me, perhaps shocked me, is that Nicolas Sarkozy talked about France's commitments in Afghanistan before British parliamentarians when there hasn't been the slightest debate before French parliamentarians," said Segolene Royal, the defeated Socialist candidate in the 2007 elections.

Sarkozy, speaking in London, rejected the opposition's concerns and said there would be a full opportunity for the National Assembly to debate the issue.

"I have spoken about it myself to the president of the National Assembly," he said at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. "I want this debate."

Royal said she opposed any further increase in French troop numbers in Afghanistan.

"I am not in favor of any strengthening of France's forces in Afghanistan in the current context when one doesn't know the risks they will face or what guarantees have been taken to protect our soldiers," she told RTL radio.

The national secretary of the Socialist Party, Francois Hollande, also came out forcibly against the move.   Continued...

<p>French President Nicolas Sarkozy addresses members of both Houses of Parliament in the Royal Gallery of the Palace of Westminster, in London on March 26, 2008. REUTERS/Stephen Hird</p>