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French President Hollande tells Marois secularism eases social tensions

PARIS - An expression of support for secularism by the French president was greeted enthusiastically Tuesday by Premier Pauline Marois, whose government is trying to ban obvious religious symbols from the public service.

Francois Hollande said secularism and bans on religious symbols are the best way for a society to live together.

While the French president didn't give overt support to Quebec's proposed charter of values, his remarks indicated a shared view that Marois gleefully accepted.

Quebec's charter, which would forbid public-sector employees from wearing such symbols as the hijab, has been hotly debated since it was raised earlier this year. The proposed legislation will go before public hearings early next year.

Hollande made the comments after a 45-minute meeting in Paris with the Quebec premier.

Hollande said the French experience since 2004 has showed that bans on overt religious symbols has helped to ease tensions in pluralist societies such as France and Quebec.

On Friday, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault made similar comments, which was like "music to the ears" of the Quebec premier.

Marois was hard-pressed to contain her joy at Hollande's remarks although she hesitated to interpret them.

She did say France had been an inspiration to her.

The meeting with Hollande came on the fifth day of the premier's economic mission to Paris, Monaco and Brussels.

Hollande said he would like to visit Canada and Quebec.

Marois said she hopes the visit can be combined with a trade mission that would strengthen Quebec and France's ties.

The Canadian Press


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