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FRENCH LEADER WOULD BACK QUEBEC ON SECESSION VOTE

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said Tuesday that Paris would support independence for Quebec if the French-speaking Canadian province voted in a referendum to secede.

"If the French government had to adopt a position, it would do so based on real events, and not according to events that have not yet occurred," Jospin said in a news conference with Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard.

Jospin's statements showed that he was in line with conservative President Jacques Chirac, who said Monday that France would go along with any choice Quebec made democratically.

The Canadian government downplayed the statements Tuesday while sending a veiled message to France to keep out of the issue.

"I have discussed this problem many times with President Chirac, and he knows that this is a Canadian problem that will be solved by the Canadian people and not by the French government," Prime Minister Jean Chretien said in Ottawa.

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