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Argentine president opens Paris Book Fair, using soft diplomacy during economic woes

PARIS - It might be called soft diplomacy: Argentina's president is temporarily shifting focus from the country' economic woes to showcase its literary wealth.

Cristina Fernandez inaugurated France's prestigious annual Book Fair on Thursday, which is honouring Argentine literature this year.

Accompanied by 45 pro-government Argentine authors, the leader met with French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault for a special ceremony.

Crowds chanted "Cristina, Cristina" as she arrived in a sparkling jacket and pearls, driving around the spread-out site in a buggy because of a twisted ankle.

The book fair tribute to Argentina may take her mind off a Moody's Investors Service decision Monday to downgrade Argentina's government bonds, reflecting an increased risk that Argentina will default on its debts again.

Fernandez won support in her effort to reduce debt from French President Francois Hollande, who said he would back Argentina's push to cancel $9.5 billion in debt owed to the Paris Club of creditor nations.

"France wants Argentina to overcome its financial difficulties," Hollande said after meeting Fernandez. "We are doing everything so that at the Paris Club ... we can support Argentina's move, because that's in our interest ... so that we can increase trade with Argentina."

The 61-year-old leader, widow of former President Nestor Kirchner, has drawn criticism for her lavish lifestyle while Argentinians struggle.

After jetting in to Europe on the presidential plane, Tango 1, the fashion-conscious Latin American leader sprained an ankle in Italy before an audience with the Pope, and has had to wear a clunky boot for photo-ops all week.

The Canadian Press


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