No plan for French lawmaker vote on Syria: senior lawmaker

PARIS Mon Sep 2, 2013 3:29am EDT

French President Francois Hollande and Ahmad Jarba (R), head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, speak to journalists in the courtyard of the Elysee Palace in Paris, August 29, 2013. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

French President Francois Hollande and Ahmad Jarba (R), head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, speak to journalists in the courtyard of the Elysee Palace in Paris, August 29, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

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PARIS (Reuters) - France's government will not cede to calls from opposition figures to have lawmakers vote on whether to take military action in Syria, the head of parliament's foreign affairs committee Elisabeth Guigou said on Monday.

President Francois Hollande's demands for Bashar al-Assad's government to be punished for an alleged chemical attack have left him out on a limb since Britain's parliament voted against carrying out punitive strikes and U.S. President Barack Obama said he would seek Congress approval before any action.

Hollande is head of the army under the French constitution and empowered to order an intervention, with the sole obligation of informing parliament within three days of it starting. Only if military action were to last more than four months would he be obliged to seek parliamentary approval for it to continue.

With opinion polls showing up to two-thirds of the public would oppose an intervention in Syria, however, several conservative, centrist and green politicians called over the weekend for France to hold a special parliament vote.

"In a complicated situation like this, we need to stick to principles, in other words the constitution, which does not oblige the president to hold a vote, nor even a debate," Guigou, a veteran of the ruling Socialist Party, told France Info radio.

"I don't see that holding a vote would make any sense politically," she said, noting France would be left in an impossible situation were parliament to vote in favor of action and then the U.S. Congress to vote against.

She said the French government felt it was important not to do nothing, as that would send the signal to other hardline leaders that using chemical weapons against civilians can go unpunished, but said France would not act on its own.

"France cannot act alone. To give an intervention legality it would need to be carried out by a broad coalition," she said.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault will meet parliament leaders later on Monday to discuss the crisis and share with them French intelligence on the attack.

Guigou told France Info the French intelligence pointed clearly to Assad's forces being behind the attack, which allegedly killed hundreds of people, including many children.

A BVA opinion poll released on Saturday showed 64 percent of respondents opposed taking military action in Syria, 58 percent did not trust Hollande to conduct an operation and 35 percent feared that strikes could "set ablaze" the Middle East.

Former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, a conservative, is among those saying Hollande should call a special parliament vote over taking military action, which he said he opposed.

Jean-Francois Cope, head of the conservative UMP party, said on Saturday that nothing should be done before U.N. inspectors release findings from the chemical attack site.

(Reporting by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Alison Williams)

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