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An American President in Paris

June 17, 1999

PARIS (AP) _ Oh, to be the American president in Paris. Frenchwomen demanding kisses. Vendors dishing up ice cream for free.

For President Clinton, a Thursday afternoon stroll meant to be nostalgic _ ``The first time I came here was 30 years ago and I wanted to get out and walk around,″ he said _ turned into a near-hysterical crush of tourists.

After a long morning cooped up in meetings with French officials, Clinton ordered his motorcade to the Tuileries Gardens, where in his 20s he had had his picture snapped before the sprawling fountain.

Scores of tourists and French people raced toward the president. Anxious Secret Service agents held a wide lasso of rope around Clinton to keep them at bay.

One agent pushed people out of the way with the muttered warning: ``I’m armed.″

Clinton himself was unperturbed. Sweating and flushed in the heat, he pressed into the crowd in his shirtsleeves, even hopping up onto the running board of his limousine and reaching across its roof to greet admirers.

``I voted for you twice!″ said Nick Fargo, 24, vacationing from Kentfield, Calif.

Another man thanked Clinton in an Irish accent for helping the Northern Ireland peace process. ``We’re keeping our fingers crossed,″ Clinton said.

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As French police cleared the streets of midday traffic, the president also headed to one of Paris’ islands in the Seine. On Rue Saint-Louis En L’ile, he exchanged ``high fives″ with shouting boys and posed for pictures with tourists, many of them American.

Lahouriry Mina, chic in a slim, one-shouldered black dress, demanded _ to Clinton’s compliance _ a kiss on each cheek ``because he’s a beautiful man.″

Oh, she added with a giggle, ``and he’s a good president.″

___

Never too early to work down that holiday gift list.

Paying with French francs, the president picked up a few goodies in the Galerie Alize: two Indonesian wooden boxes like those used in olden days to store gunpowder, and a small ceramic frog to add to the Clinton family collection.

``I can do a little Christmas shopping now,″ Clinton explained.

The chocolates and jams in L’Epicerie caught Clinton’s eye. But not like the olive oil. Of his deep-green prize, Clinton gushed: ``Isn’t it beautiful?″

For two scoops of strawberry ice cream at Berthillon, Clinton pulled francs from his pocket. The clerk sniffed and insisted the treat was free.

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On the Place Concorde, yards away from the site of Princess Diana’s fatal car crash, French paparazzi on motor scooters staked out Clinton as he lingered at the American Embassy.

It was one of his last stops in Paris before heading on to Cologne, Germany, for the summit of leaders from the world’s leading industrial nations.

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The two first couples seemed to have one grand time Wednesday night when they dined at Chez L’Ami Louis, a bistro on a narrow street in a working class neighborhood on the Right Bank.

French President Jacques Chirac and his wife Bernadette greeted the Clintons warmly. Chirac kissed Mrs. Clinton in traditional fashion, while Clinton shook hands with the first lady of France.

After the meal, Clinton emerged almost giddy. Asked about the two leaders’ dinner, Clinton told a French TV crew camped across the alley: ``We agreed _ the two of us _ we agreed that millions of years ago our ancestors came out of Africa,″ Clinton said, laughing.

Upon a night’s reflection, Chirac and Clinton told reporters Thursday that business had taken a holiday.

Chirac: ``I can’t say that we worked a great deal yesterday evening, to tell you the truth. But, however, we did spend time, which personally I very much enjoyed.″

Clinton: ``We did not discuss a lot of business. We mostly discussed archaeology and endangered species around the world. But we had a wonderful dinner.″

Clinton’s meal, according to the French presidential Elysee Palace, was cured ham and fois gras from the southwest Landes region followed by roast milk-fed lamb with bearnaise potatoes and girolles mushrooms, washed down with a 1990 St. Julien wine. Red fruit finished off the dinner.

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