France protests treatment of government minister by US authorities; US government admits mistake

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Friday, October 21, 2005 Updated: Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Azouz Begag

The French government has protested officially to the US government for some border control that it deemed "a little excessive" with respect to a French minister travelling to the US on October 13 on a diplomatic passport and with a diplomatic visa.

French spokesman, Jean-Baptiste Mattei said; "We protested to the U.S. authorities and have received clarifications via the State Department, which recognized that a professional fault had been made by the officer. He has been reprimanded and will go through a retraining program." The spokesman declined to give details of the incident, but said the action of the officer had been "completely out of place with respect to a government minister."

The official, Azouz Begag, was born in Lyon, France of Algerian lineage. A researcher in socioeconomics at CNRS, and a writer, he is now delegate minister in charge of the promotion of equality. His functions include most notably the fight against racism.

Neither governments provided specific details about the incident, at first. However, further details have emerged. According to Le Monde, Mr Begag was told by an officer that his diplomatic visa was not valid for giving conferences, then was taken to an interrogation room. Mr Begag was due to be met at the airport by American officials and French consular officers, but due to miscommunication they could not find him in the airport when he arrived.

It is not the first time that Mr Begag has had to confront suspicions of his identity. He mentioned an event in a French bank where, when entering with a woolen cap, he was taken for a thief and the police was called in. He also mentions the difficulties which, he says, people of Arabic origin have when entering the United States since the September 11, 2001 bombings. He has a personal experience of such difficulties in 2003, when, as a writer, he had problems entering the US.