INTERNATIONAL

U.K.-French spat on summit eve

Hasan Suroor

LONDON: The carefully-choreographed mood music surrounding what has been billed as one of the most politically significant gatherings of world leaders hit a sour note, even before it started, following an embarrassing Anglo-French spat on Tuesday.

The row erupted after French President Jacques Chirac allegedly made "insulting'' remarks about Britain, hours before he was due to arrive in Scotland for the G-8 summit.

Mr. Chirac's off-the-cuff comments, picked up by a French reporter and splashed all over the British media, heightened the simmering tensions between London and Paris over the future of the European Union and the rival bids for the 2012 Olympics.

Apparently, the loquacious French leader let himself go during an informal conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder while on a visit to Russia recently. According to the version, reported by the French newspaper Liberation and reproduced by the British media, Mr. Chirac questioned Britain's trustworthiness and mocked the British food calling it the "worst'' after Finland.

"The only thing (the British) have ever given European farming is mad cow disease,'' he reportedly said and, then turning the knife further, added: "You can't trust people who have such bad cuisine. It is the country with the worst food after Finland.''

Amid laughter from Mr. Putin and Mr. Schroeder, Mr. Chirac took a potshot at the Scotland's favourite dish, the Haggis. There was no direct official comment, but Prime Minister Tony Blair indirectly paid back the compliment when, asked whether the summit could end up in an anti-climax, he said: "I won't say that G-8 summit would be an anti-climax because that would be undiplomatic. I know when I go there I will be in the presence of very diplomatic people.''

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