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Embattled Hollande talks tough on Syria
Attacked by right wing opponents for lacking backbone on Syria, French President François Hollande came out fighting Monday by saying France would recognise a provisional government put in place by the Syrian opposition.
French President François Hollande talked tough on Syria on Monday, following high-profile criticism of his apparently weak stance on Damascus.
Addressing the annual meeting of France’s international ambassadors in Paris, 58-year-old Hollande called for the first time on Syria’s fractured opposition to form a provisional government and stated that France would recognise it. Hollande also castigated Russia and China for persistently vetoing UN resolutions against Damascus.
He went on to echo US President Barack Obama’s warning that if Syria used chemical weapons it would be “crossing a red line”, saying that it would “justify a legitimate direct intervention”.
During France’s traditionally long summer break both former President Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-Prime Minister François Fillon spoke out to criticise Hollande for failing to take a tougher line on Syria.
making a direct comparison with Libya in 2011 when he mobilised NATO-led action which contributed to the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi.
The former French leader, who previously held talks with rebel leaders while in office, also called on Hollande to do more to engage with Syrian opposition groups.
A week later, Fillon wrote an opinion piece in popular right-wing daily Le Figaro calling on Hollande to be “braver” and to “take some risks” on the Syrian issue.
Complaining that France was “doing the bare minimum”, he urged Hollande to engage more closely with China and Russia in order to bring greater pressure to bear on Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, but distanced himself from his former boss’s call for military intervention.
Holidaying during a crisis?
To make matters worse, Hollande returned to work after his summer break on the French Riviera to worrying front pa
An IPSOS poll for French weekly news magazine Le Point on Monday showed that his approval rating has dropped from 55% to 44% in August alone.
“Although this has just as much to do with unemployment in France as criticism over Syria, these comments from Sarkozy and Fillon will certainly have had a negative effect,” IPSOS polling director Mathieu Doiret told FRANCE 24.
“It boils down to being perceived to be absent at a time of crisis.”
Western leaders unconvinced over Syrian unity
Hollande’s speech on Monday sought to answer some of these criticisms and to tackle head on his crumbling domestic approval.
His demand for the Syrian rebels to form a provisional government and that France would recognise it is an unprecedented step – most western nations, while calling for Assad to step down, have not formally said that they will recognise the opposition.
“France asks the Syrian opposition to form a provisional government ... that can become the legitimate representative of the new Syria,” the French president said. “We are calling on our Arab partners to help us accelerate this process and France will recognise the provisional government of Syria once it is formed.”
While most diplomats recognise that a united opposition is a vital prerequisite to a transition of power, outside of France there is more reluctance to recognise the opposition while it remains plagued by divisions and without even a transition plan.
Most are much more guarded, with one US State Department official saying late Monday, “We’re nowhere near that.”