World's biggest book fair in Germany turns political

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BERLIN, Sep 21 (Reuters) The world's biggest book fair will be a platform for political debate this year rather than simply focusing on the financial aspects of the book market, the director of the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Plans for the fair, which will run October 10-14, have already ignited debate, with some Spanish authors refusing to attend because of fears over this year's focus on Catalan literature.

''Some said 'we are not coming because we feel we are going to be used in a political sense','' the fair's director, Juergen Boos, told a news conference in Berlin yesterday. ''It is a real shame.'' The fair, which attracts around 300,000 visitors, usually centres on one country, but this year will focus on the Catalan region of northeast Spain.

The move has led Spanish-language authors such as Carlos Ruiz-Zafon to snub the fair because of the enduring political tensions over the Catalan language, which was repressed during General Francisco Franco's dictatorship of 1939-1975.

The fair's organisers say they seek to encourage political debate, including the controversies of language and translation.

''We have repositioned the book fair so that it is not just an economic success -- where people can sign contracts, buy books and translations,'' Boos said.

''It is important to show the socially political character of books. The book is a weapon ... both positive and negative.'' He said he expected debate to also focus on freedom of speech in China and West Asia.

REUTERS AK BST0507

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