French Foreign Affairs Ministry launches Iraq website

PARIS - The French Foreign Affairs Ministry's communications department this week unveiled a website devoted exclusively to communicating France's policy on Iraq and providing up-to-date information on developments in the war.

French foreign affairs ministry official spokesman Fran├žois Rivasseau launched the site earlier this week.

The ministry said the site will carry up-to-the-minute news and updates, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

On announcement of the online service, Rivasseau said: "French authorities are profoundly preoccupied with the first military operations that are being engaged in Iraq."

He added in a statement: "They [French authorities] hope that everything will be done so that [Iraq's] civilian populations will be spared additional hardships.

"They call on the countries of the region to abstain from all actions that might aggravate the situation -- they desire that the conflict that has just begun will cease as rapidly as possible.

"French authorities continue to be particularly attentive to the security of French citizens abroad and follow the evolution of the situation with the greatest attention."

Meanwhile, French satellite and cable service CanalSatellite announced it is offering subscribers free access to Qatar-based Arabic satellite news network Al Jazeera, which was this week heavily criticised for broadcasting pictures of captured American soldiers, paraded on Iraqi television.

Downing Street joined the US in its condemnation of Al Jazeera's coverage, urging broadcasters not to allow themselves to be exploited by the Iraqis.

Al Jazeera gained international notoriety for its post-September 11 coverage and has since been expanding into other regions, such as America, where it claims to have already signed up more than 135,000 subscribers.

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