'Anti-Sarko' wave climaxes as rightwinger heads for vote

20th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 20, 2007 (AFP) - Nicolas Sarkozy may be ever closer to victory in Sunday's first round of French presidential elections, but the rightwinger seems to have lost the battle to dispel angst about his tough-guy reputation.

PARIS, April 20, 2007 (AFP) - Nicolas Sarkozy may be ever closer to victory in Sunday's first round of French presidential elections, but the rightwinger seems to have lost the battle to dispel angst about his tough-guy reputation.

Such is the level of concern about him that a news magazine that ran a cover story titled "Sarkozy: what the big media don't dare or don't want to say," has printed an extra 80,000 copies of its edition containing the article.

The weekly Marianne said it had initially sold 300,000 copies last week and then put an extra 60,000 copies on sale on Wednesday, but these had already sold out and it was putting the extra ones on sale on Friday.

The 12-page dossier, relying largely on anonymous sources and information already published elsewhere, portrayed Sarkozy as a future dictator and concluded with the claim that he represents a "serious danger" to democracy and the French republic.

A columnist in the leftwing Liberation said Thursday that Sarkozy, who has been trying to soften his image, was being "demonised" and begged voters to "stand back from this wave of hatred" to "reflect calmly on the projects" of each of the candidates.

But this was unlikely to calm the fever of the "anti-Sarko" camp.

Sarkozy, the 52-year-old candidate of the ruling UMP party, is set to come first in Sunday's first round of voting, according to opinion polls which put the Socialist Segolene Royal second and the centrist Francois Bayrou third.

But despite topping the polls he has inspired much fear and loathing, way beyond any hostility his presidential rivals have provoked.

On the Internet, a raft of websites are promoting an "Anyone But Sarkozy" stance, portraying the candidate as the worst possible choice for the presidency.

Campaign posters of all the 12 candidates in the election, whose second round comes on May 6, have been defaced, but reports suggest that Sarkozy's have had the most attacks.

He has had Hitler moustaches drawn on his face and devil's horns on his head, and his campaign slogan has been changed to "Everything becomes painful" instead of the original "Everything becomes possible."

Sarkozy is lampooned as a violent hothead in the nightly television programme "Les Guignols," the French version of the British Spitting Image satire.

The latex puppet of Sarkozy is often seen in sketches making a Herculean effort to remain calm, but he invariably throws a tantrum and starts beating up the news anchor.

Sarkozy is widely hated by young people in poor suburbs where the former interior minister is accused of introducing oppressive police methods and fueling tensions that led to riots that spread across France in late 2005.

Widely-reported remarks in which he called delinquents "rabble" and promised to clean out criminal gangs with a "power-hose" severely dented his image.

Royal and Bayrou regularly point to Sarkozy's status as persona non grata in the suburbs to chip away at his credibility, saying France needs a president who will be a unifying force.

When Sarkozy recently suggested he was "inclined to think" that paedophilia was determined by genes, Royal accused him of making "very dangerous" remarks that revealed his "brutality" and a "very alarming view of humanity."

A tell-all book went on sale in stores last week by former minister Azouz Begag, who recounts that Sarkozy threatened to "smash" his face in after the minister criticised his stance on crime in suburbs hit by rioting in 2005.

Begag wrote that a furious Sarkozy called him on the telephone, yelling: "You're an asshole, a disloyal bastard! I'm going to smash your face."

Sarkozy dismissed the entire account as a lie.

He was recently obliged to defend his reputation on prime time French television, acknowledging he did frighten some people but reassuring voters that the same had once been said of past presidents Francois Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac.

And while Sarkozy's inner circle admits that the candidate can be impetuous, they see his bulldozer personality as an asset in the drive to shake up the stodgy world of French politics.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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