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French Ambassador visits Columbus, draws protest

Since the beginning of the U-S led war in Iraq, America's relationship with most of its European allies--excluding England---has been strained.

France was among the countries that opposed the war. Now the two countries are trying to mend fences

The French ambassador to the United States Wednesday visited Columbus to discuss the change in French and U-S relations this last year.

Ambassador Jean-David Levitte is optimistic about future relations between the U-S and France. Levitte says now that the disagreement between the two countries about the validity of the war is past, it is time to look towards the future---rebuilding Iraq.

With the end of major fighting in Iraq, much of the focus has now turned to developing a democratic state and the economic benefits that could come with it.

President Bush recently announced countries who had not supported the U.S. led campaign would be unable to bid on contracts to rebuild the country.

But Bush said Tuesday Canada would be allowed to compete for contracts, a sign the hard line stance of the administration may be diminishing.

France's Jean-David Levitte says his country sees rebuilding Iraq as an important step to peace in the Middle East, not an opportunity to gain an economic foothold.

Levitte adds the U-S stands to gain more economically from Iraq and its oil than France.

During Levitte's comments at a lunch forum at the Columbus Metropolitan Club, a group of Muslim women and girls stood outside dressed in hajibs or headscarves.

The group was protesting a French law that bans wearing any religious symbols in public buildings--including schools.

Ambassador Levitte says France has a strict policy of separation of church and state that is being enforced. He says parents can send their children to private school.

Levitte says the law does not apply to public colleges or universities.