Royal's comments about Quebec irritate Canadian prime minister

Has French presidential candidate Segolene Royal made another blunder in international affairs?

The Socialist candidate told reporters on Monday that she supported "sovereignty and liberty" for Quebec, prompting a rebuke from Canada's prime minister who said it was inappropriate for her to comment on Canada's internal affairs.

Royal, a former family and environment minister, is largely untested in diplomatic affairs, and some of her biggest missteps ahead of the April-May presidential race have come in that area. Critics complain that she often tailors her remarks to please whomever she is speaking with.

The candidate met for 15 minutes on Monday with Andre Boisclair, who heads Quebec's minority Parti Quebecois, which wants French-speaking Quebec to secede from Canada.

After the meeting, Quebecois reporters asked Royal about her affinities for Quebec.

She responded: "They are in line with the values that we share, the sovereignty and liberty of Quebec." Puzzled journalists tried to work out whether her comments were a statement of policy or just an error.

Hours later, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement criticizing Royal's remarks.

"Experience teaches that it is highly inappropriate for a foreign leader to interfere in the democratic affairs of another country," it said.

Critics say Royal has made major foreign policy gaffes during trips to the Middle East and China. During a visit to Lebanon in December, Royal faced criticism for not responding when a Hezbollah lawmaker compared Israel's former occupation of Lebanon to that of the Nazis in France during World War II. Royal said she did not hear the remark, reports AP.

During a visit to China this month, Royal said the French justice system could learn lessons from China. She said she had met with a Chinese lawyer who had told her his country's justice system was sometimes faster than France's.

"Before giving lessons to other countries, we should always look at the elements of comparison," she said. Critics pounced on her for praising a justice system criticized for human rights abuses and its frequent use of the death penalty.

Royal's main likely competitor in the presidency is conservative Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. They are vying to replace President Jacques Chirac, who has been in office 12 years.

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