French Foreign Minister To Snub Mexican Festival

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PARIS (AP) - The French foreign minister said Friday that she plans to snub France's yearlong festival celebrating Mexican culture because of a court case that has strained the countries' ties.

Michele Alliot-Marie move follows a Mexican appeals court decision on Thursday to uphold the conviction of Frenchwoman Florence Cassez, imprisoned in Mexico for kidnapping.

Cassez, who is in her mid-30s, has been convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison over her involvement in three 2005 kidnappings.

Alliot-Marie called the appeals court ruling a "denial of justice" and said it would have consequences for the countries' relations.

Last week France launched its "Year of Mexico" celebrations, featuring about 350 concerts, exhibits and other events throughout 2011.

"It's obvious I won't participate in any of these events," Alliot-Marie told France-2 television. Cassez' mother has pressed to have the festival canceled altogether.

In Mexico, Foreign Relations Secretary Patricia Espinosa met Friday with French Ambassador to Mexico Daniel Parfait to discuss Alliot-Marie's reaction to the court ruling and to emphasize that ties between the two country shouldn't hinge on Cassez's legal case, said Fernando Morales, a spokesman with the Foreign Relations Department.

Espinosa told Parfait that France should consider the Cassez case in its proper dimension and remember that the nations' bilateral relations go beyond a legal case, Morales said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Mexico in 2009 and asked Mexico to allow Cassez to serve her sentence in France. But President Felipe Calderon eventually rejected the request because France could not guarantee that Cassez would serve her full 60-year sentence.

Cassez has acknowledged she lived at a ranch where the kidnap victims were held. But she said she was simply dating a Mexican arrested in the case and did not know the people there had been kidnapped.

One of the victims identified Cassez as one of her captors, and another suspect in the case said the Frenchwoman helped lead the gang that carried out the kidnappings.

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Associated Press writer Olga R. Rodriguez contributed to this story from Mexico City.
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