France says China backs Lagarde for IMF chief

PARIS, May 24, 2011 (AFP) - China would back France's Finance Minister Christine Lagarde to head the International Monetary Fund, chief French government spokesman Francois Baroin said Tuesday.

"The Chinese are favorable to the candidacy of Christine Lagarde," Baroin, who is also France's budget minister, told Europe 1 radio, adding that it was too soon to know whether Lagarde would be a candidate.

China's backing would give a significant boost to Lagarde's possible candidacy, which has been opposed by some emerging nations in protest at the tradition of a European always heading the global emergency lender.

Germany, Britain and other European powers have backed Lagarde to take over as managing director of the International Monetary Fund after her countryman Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned following his arrest on sex assault charges.

"What is being drawn up is a European consensus," Baroin said.

"But you will easily understand, given the circumstances of the IMF director's resignation, and given that it is not a point of national pride, that it is not for France to take a position first."

Under a long-standing arrangement between Europe and the United States, a European has always held the top IMF job while an American leads its sister institution, the World Bank.

However some emerging economies have called for a chance to get the post.

"We do not want to make any gesture that could be interpreted as a form of contempt for emerging countries nor any sign of arrogance, given the circumstances," Baroin said.

Lagarde is widely tipped as favourite but has not said whether she will run.

Asked on US news channel CNBC on Monday what she would say if offered the post, she replied: "I'd say what an interesting question, but clearly premature. It's for others to decide, my dear."

An EU source said Friday that Lagarde, 55, was "practically a shoo-in" to become Europe's candidate, although she has been dogged by a French judicial probe into allegations of abuse of power.

A prosecutor called last week for a probe targeting Lagarde in connection with her handling of a high-profile scandal involving tycoon Bernard Tapie, amid allegations that she exceeded her authority in the case.

Baroin said he was "not worried about that affair."

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