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Ayrault to stay neutral on Quebec separatism during four-day Canada visit

media Quebec Prime Minister Pauline Marois Reuters/Mathieu Belanger

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault started a four-day visit to Canada Wednesday. It includes an extended stay in French-speaking Quebec, currently ruled by the officially separatist Parti Québecois.

Ayrault arrived in Ottawa for a with his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper.

They were to discuss a free-trade pact between Canada and the European Union and Ayrault hopes to reinforce France’s relationship with Quebec.

In October French President François Hollande said France would return to its traditionally neutral policy on Quebec independence.

The ni-ni (neither, nor) policy means France is officially neutral on the questionwhile leaving its options open if Quebec chooses to separate from the rest of Canada.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy had angered separatists by attacking the independence movement.

In 1967 then-president Charles de Gaulle stirred up a crisis in Franco-Canadian relations by finishing a speech in Montreal with the slogan “Vive le Québec libre!” (Long live free Quebec!), a paraphrase to the “Vive la France libre!” (Long live free France!), with which he ended his calls to resistance to German occupation during World War II.

In Montreal on Thursday afternoon Ayrault will meet Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, whose separatist Parti Québecois returned to power in August.

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