Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Canadian Prime Minister Pleas for Country's Unity Quebec Separatists Surge toward Independence

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Canadian Prime Minister Pleas for Country's Unity Quebec Separatists Surge toward Independence

Article excerpt

With Canada on the brink of splitting, Prime Minister Jean Chretien pleaded Tuesday evening with residents of Quebec to thwart the separatists who now predict victory in the province's independence referendum next week.

Trying to recoup from a disastrous week in which the separatists surged into the lead in polls, Chretien drew the biggest federalist crowd of the campaign - at least 8,000 people - to suburban Montreal.

"The future of this country will be played out within one week," Chretien said, referring to Monday's referendum. "Canada is at stake. . . . It is a country worth fighting for."

The speech, to an impassioned crowd chanting "Non, non" to separatism as they waved Canadian and Quebec flags, was one of the most important of Chretien's career.

He also requested television time for an address to the nation tonight, to discuss Quebec's referendum on independence.

Infighting has wracked the federalist side for several days as its leaders argue over whether to make a last-minute offer to Quebec of constitutional reform.

"The wheels have come off the (federalist) campaign," said Pierre Paradis, the No. 2 federalist leader in the mostly French-speaking province. He said the separatists would win unless Chretien and premiers of the nine English-speaking provinces made a dramatic offer to Quebec of some special constitutional status.

Financial traders, alarmed by polls showing the separatists ahead, sent the Canadian dollar and the Toronto Stock Market sharply downward Monday. The stock market suffered its sixth-biggest one-day loss ever before stabilizing Tuesday.

Seeking to shore up the battered dollar, the Bank of Canada raised its bank rate Tuesday to 7.65 percent from 6.67 percent. It was the largest jump in three years and raised expectations that major commercial banks would follow with an increase in the prime rate, currently 8 percent.

Individual Quebeckers also showed signs of nervousness. Banks in Cornwall, Ontario, and Plattsburgh, N.Y., both close to the Quebec border, reported a significant increase in Quebeckers asking about opening accounts.

In Montreal, hundreds of people have swamped passport offices to obtain Canadian passports before the referendum. …

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