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Budget cuts spark French diplomats’ strike

Paris, Dec. 1 (Reuters): Thousands of French diplomats from Rome to Riyadh staged an unprecedented strike today over budget cuts they say make a mockery of President Jacques Chirac’s bid to boost French influence abroad.

Embassy and consular services were reduced to a minimum in the one-day protest over cutbacks which unions say have hit diplomats’ allowances abroad and even led to paper shortages in some missions and foreign ministry offices.

“The French approach is that you can solve world problems through diplomacy. If that is so, give us the resources,” said Yvan Sergeff, of public sector trade union USMAE.

“(We) do not understand how President Jacques Chirac and the government proclaim grand ambitions for France internationally even as the human and financial means of this ministry are constantly shrinking,” USMAE and five other unions said. It said 126 of France’s 154 embassies — a diplomatic network second in spread only to that of the US — were affected. The foreign ministry said most missions had been affected.

In Washington, the French embassy was closed to non-urgent business. “We are only open for emergencies. Call back tomorrow,” said an employee who answered the phone.

In Rome, almost all staff were on strike at France’s embassy in the fresco-filled Renaissance Palazzo Farnese, a receptionist said by telephone, adding the embassy was closed to the public.

Calls to the French embassy in London were answered by a recorded message saying it would operate at a reduced service. Up to 40 per cent of ministry personnel went on strike in Dublin, although embassy services were little affected.

“There is nobody here today, only local employees,” said an official at the embassy in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. A spokeswoman said the mission was open only for a“ minimum service”. Over 75 per cent of foreign ministry staff were on strike at Algiers, where the ex-colonial power has one of its largest embassies. The figure was put even higher in Tunis.

Other missions appeared less badly affected. A French diplomat in Tehran said some staff were striking but the embassy was offering all services.

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