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Mitt Romney lambasted in attack ad for speaking French

image captionMitt Romney (right) spent more than two years as a Mormon missionary in France in the 1960s

Quelle horreur! Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney has been skewered in a new political attack ad - for speaking French.

The ad, released by rival Newt Gingrich, seeks to draw unflattering parallels between Mr Romney and another Massachusetts politician, John Kerry.

Entitled The French Connection, it features a clip of Mr Romney talking in French when he ran the Winter Olympics.

The Republicans are vying to challenge President Obama in November's election.

Correspondents say the highlighting of Mr Romney's alleged French-language skills is an attempt to portray him as an elitist, European-style liberal wimp.

'Je m'appelle Mitt'

Accompanied by a French accordion soundtrack, the ad says Mr Romney is a "Massachusetts moderate who ran away from Ronald Reagan", the revered Republican president.

After decrying the former Massachusetts governor for backing government-mandated healthcare, taxpayer-funded abortions and raising taxes, the ad delivers the coup de grace.

image captionIn 2004, Republicans said then Democratic White House hopeful John Kerry "looks French"

"Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney - he'll say anything to win. Anything," warns the narrator. "And just like John Kerry he speaks French, too."

It is followed by a clip of Democratic Senator Kerry saying, "Laissez les bon temps rouler", juxtaposed with another of Mr Romney saying, "Bonjour, je m'appelle Mitt Romney."

The footage comes from a promotional video Mr Romney recorded when he was chief executive of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, in the US state of Utah.

Millionaire businessman Mr Romney also spent more than two years living in Paris and Bordeaux in the 1960s working as a Mormon missionary.

Some commentators have highlighted a possible irony in that Mr Gingrich, a former House Speaker, has a doctorate in European history. His 1971 dissertation, Belgian Education Policy in the Congo 1945-1960, contains a number of sources in French in its bibliography.

Other recent attack ads by Republican rivals have pilloried Mr Romney, who built a fortune in private equity, as a job-destroying corporate raider.

It is not the first time that Sen Kerry's links to France - he speaks the language and has relatives in the country - have become an issue in US politics.

When he was the Democratic nominee to challenge George W Bush for the White House in 2004, Republicans said he "looks French".

Amid patriotic outrage over the French government's opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, cafeterias in the House of Representatives issued a culinary rebuke by changing the name of french fries on menus to "freedom fries".

The Republicans are preparing for a potentially crucial primary election in the state of South Carolina on 21 January.

Mr Romney was declared the winner of Iowa's caucuses earlier this month and scored a resounding victory in New Hampshire's primary this week.

The contenders will compete in a series of state-by-state primaries and caucuses before the winning candidate is anointed at the Republican Party convention in August.

Analysts say Mr Romney could have the nomination effectively sewn up well before then if his momentum is not checked in South Carolina.