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France seeks to dispel tensions with the US

French President Nicolas Sarkozy moved Tuesday to downplay perceived strains with the US over the relief effort in Haiti, saying both countries are cooperating to help the quake-hit country.

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Seeking to ease strains with the US, French president Nicolas Sarkozy said on Tuesday that Paris and Washington are working together to help Haiti after the devastating earthquake.

The conciliatory message comes after Alain Joyandet, France’s development minister, protested against the lead role taken by the US in Haiti in strong terms.

The minister made an official protest Saturday after American troops stopped a French plane carrying medical supplies from landing at the airport in Port-au-Prince. The priority was “"helping Haiti, not occupying Haiti", Joyandet had said.

The French government now clearly wants to ease the tension.

"I would like to salute the exceptional mobilisation shown by President Obama and the US administration," Sarkozy said during a visit to the French island of La Reunion. "The role that they are playing with us on the ground is essential", he added.

Other members of the government have tried to downplay suggestions that Paris is being sidelined by the United States.

"No one is excluding anyone," France's minister for Europe, Pierre Lellouche said. "America needs Europe and Europe needs the United States."

Paris and Washington working together

Meanwhile, French and American governments are joining efforts and have shown their commitment in rebuilding Haiti after the devastating earthquake.

Paris has led calls for an international conference on rebuilding Haiti, a former French colony that retains strong ties to Paris despite the fact that US influence in the island nation has increased since the early 1990s.

A conference of international donors on how to help rebuild Haiti after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake will be held in Montreal on January 25. US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is expected to attend.

France has sent hundreds of rescuers, two navy ships and tonnes of aid to Haiti, while pressing the European Union to deploy a security force to quell the chaos arising from desperate survivors fighting for food and water.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the US government asked leaders in Brazil and Canada to participate in shepherding the humanitarian drive.

The US government has already sent around 7,500 troops, and 20 US Black Hawk helicopters to Port-au-Prince. Lieutenant-General Ken Keen, US commander of the joint task force in Haiti told reporters they need "as many troops on the ground as (possible)," adding that there would be 10,000 US troops in the area in the next few weeks.

Reactions from other leaders in the region

Some leaders in Latin America have also criticised the role played by the US government in the Haiti. Left-wing Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, accused Obama’s government of “occupying” Haiti under the pretext of an aid operation.

"It appears they are militarily occupying Haiti, taking advantage of the tragedy," Chavez said, asking: "Why send 3,000 armed soldiers unless it is for war?"

Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega also accused the United States by characterising US security efforts as an occupation.
 

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