Marks & Spencer, Britain's biggest clothing retailer, will make its long-awaited return to France on Thursday, 10 years after abandoning western Europe amid a storm of protests.

Its 2001 exit drew howls of disapproval from customers and staff alike, with Parisians, deprived of M&S specialities such as ready-made chicken tikka masala, opening a book of condolences and workers occupying the city's flagship store.

The 127-year-old M&S, which also sells homewares and upmarket foods, said on Wednesday it would open a 1,400-square-metre flagship store at 100 Avenue des Champs-Elysees.

We have had numerous requests from consumers in France for our food and clothing, so we are pleased to be coming back to serve French customers once again, chief executive Marc Bolland said.

The return to France, announced in April, is part of a new international strategy by Bolland, who plans to open stores and a website in a limited number of countries, rather than the scattergun approach of the past.

M&S unveiled its first international website -- serving France -- in October, and has confirmed three further stores for Paris, with another two in the pipeline. It is also looking for sites for its Simply Food format in and around Paris.

M&S closed or sold its western European business in 2001 to focus on one of a series of turnaround plans for its main British operations.

(Reporting by Mark Potter; Editing by Dan Lalor)