French anger at UK tabloid 'insult'
French ministers and citizens have hit back at an edition of UK tabloid the Sun which depicted President Jacques Chirac as an earthworm.
Copies of the paper distributed in the French capital told Parisians their leader had become the "shame of Europe" because of his "constant threat" to veto "any military action intended to apply the will of the UN in Iraq".
Reaction has ranged from anger to bemusement as France does not share the UK's tabloid tradition.
Transport minister Gilles de Robien said the article, which has been criticised as a cheap publicity stunt, was "disgusting".
The culture minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon described it as "aggressive, very disagreeable, pretty vulgar and shows contempt for our country".
"I'd say they've been very badly brought up," he added.
The front page of the paper, written entirely in French included a picture of Mr Chirac's face superimposed onto the body of a worm.
The paper's editorial also tells its French readers: "You were only too happy to welcome the Americans when France was crushed under Hitler's boot.
"But today you look down on the American people and their president, and you forget how many American and British soldiers, sailors and pilots gave their lives... for the freedom of this country."
Insults often say more about the people who make them than about those they claim to describe
Mr Chirac's spokeswoman Catherine Colonna told reporters: "Insults often say more about the people who make them than about those they claim to describe."
On the streets of the French capital reaction was mixed.
Waiter Bruno Sterne, 30 said: "The press should be free, but this is pretty disgraceful.
"It's pro-war propaganda."
Laurence Baroini, 26, a photographer's assistant, said the Sun's attitude did not surprise him.
"I am proud of the president and his government," he said.
"The British, on the other hand, should be ashamed of Blair who is an opportunist and does not fully represent his party's ideals."
Others raised their own questions about Mr Chirac's motivations in the stand-off over military action against Iraq.
Myriam Vittoz, 46, said the French had forgotten that the US and Britain helped their country in World War II.
"I don't know what Chirac wants. And as for the demonstrations, there weren't that many French who took part."
Laetitia Grare, a 23-year-old saleswoman, said that although she had little respect for Mr Chirac himself, she had joined anti-war demonstrators at the weekend because she felt France's drive for a peaceful resolution of the crisis was the right way.
She said the Sun's "provocation" was "ridiculous".
"This is them desperately trying to make their opponents look ridiculous," she said, adding that polls showed most Britons were also against an early war.
"Chirac's no better than the others, and I think he'll eventually be forced to back down and support the war, but I hope he doesn't. I hope he stands firm."
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