Mexican and France in diplomatic stand-off

MEXICO’S government has cancelled Year of Mexico celebrations in France amid souring diplomatic relations over the case of a French woman serving a lengthy jail term on kidnapping charges.

“In light of the declarations by (French) President Nicolas Sarkozy, the government of Mexico considers that the conditions for the Year of Mexico in France do not exist for its properly declared purpose,” said a government statement.

Yesterday, Sarkozy said he would dedicate the joint cultural celebrations to Florence Cassez, whose appeal against her conviction and 60-year prison term were rejected by a Mexican court last week.

“Unfortunately, the government of Mexico will not be able to participate in these activities,” said the foreign ministry statement.

The French government did not mince its words on Friday, with Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie condemning the court’s decision as a “denial of justice” that “will weight on our bilateral relations.”

Mexico angrily rejected her claims, with Mexico’s Ambassador to France Carlos de Icaza saying the Mexican judiciary had “absolute independence.”

Alliot-Marie pledged to summon the Mexican ambassador to express her displeasure in person and said she would not be attending the scheduled Mexican cultural events.

In response, the Mexican government summoned the French ambassador to Mexico, Daniel Parfait, who met with Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa.

On Thursday, Mexican judges rejected the argument by Cassez’s lawyers that her conviction was tainted by authorities, who were revealed to have staged her arrest for the media five years ago. Her 96-year prison sentence was reduced to 60 years in 2009.

Prosecutors have admitted that the staging of Cassez’s arrest was a mistake, but the appeals court judges ruled it had no effect on her conviction.

Cassez had been arrested the day before the media event, along with her ex-boyfriend Israel Vallarta, a Mexican citizen.

Vallarta has admitted guilt and said Cassez was innocent but the appeals court said there was testimony from kidnap victims implicating Cassez.

“I will proclaim my innocence until the end,” Cassez said in a telephone interview from her prison. She described herself as “dejected.”

Charlotte Cassez, the mother of the jailed woman, had urged Sarkozy to cancel the cultural year.

Sarkozy has already interceded, two years ago, when he asked his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderon, to transfer Cassez to France to serve her sentence. The request was rejected.

Sarkozy said yesterday he would be renewing that request.

The row over Cassez is bad timing for the French president.

Mexico is due to take over the leadership of the G20 economic grouping from France next year, and the French president will need Calderon’s help in pushing one of his top priorities, reforming the international monetary system.

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