Bush looms large on French political scene

19th September 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 19, 2006 (AFP) - US President George W. Bush's ability to polarise electorates and political classes has spread to France, where the two leading candidates in the 2007 presidential election are divided in embracing or in despising him.

PARIS, Sept 19, 2006 (AFP) - US President George W. Bush's ability to polarise electorates and political classes has spread to France, where the two leading candidates in the 2007 presidential election are divided in embracing or in despising him.

Ségolène Royal, the leading left-wing contender, on Tuesday taunted her right-wing rival, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, for meeting Bush in Washington last week.

"When Nicolas Sarkozy aligns himself with George Bush, that means he supports the criterion of preventive war, that means he accepts this theory of a war between good and evil, that he tolerates all these destabilisation attempts in the world," she told LCI television.

She said there was a difference between an "alliance with the Americans" and "alignment" with Bush and his policies.

"My diplomatic position will not consist of going and kneeling down in front of George Bush," she said.

A trailing left-wing presidential hopeful, Laurent Fabius, has also mocked Sarkozy as Bush's "poodle".

Sarkozy's supporters, however, said the meeting showed that Sarkozy, who has unashamedly brandished pro-US credentials, was being taken seriously on the world stage.

The interior minister — who has even called himself 'Sarko the American' — certainly made segments of the US media swoon, especially after a speech in which he lauded the United States and blasted France's "arrogance".

The Washington Times newspaper said he had the "panache of a matinee idol" and saw in him "a new kind of Frenchman", one who would support US policies rather than oppose them.

The New York Daily News said: "Nicolas Sarkozy is determined to save France from its single biggest enemy — the French."

President Jacques Chirac, who has long been unable to control his ambitious interior minister, took umbrage at remarks Sarkozy also made suggesting Chirac went too far in blocking United Nations approval for the US-led war on Iraq in 2003.

On Monday, Chirac — who on Tuesday was to meet Bush himself before the two give separate addresses to the UN General Assembly — said his position has since been validated by the turn of events in Iraq.

"I adopted a stance on Iraq and I have to say that the way things panned out, it certainly didn't go against the stance I took. What I said has been borne out and I remain very pessimistic about Iraq and its future," Chirac told CNN television.

French newspaper Libération said Chirac was convinced that Sarkozy's overtures towards Bush would rile the French public and saw Sarkozy's speech as "irresponsible".

Although Chirac has not ruled out running for a third mandate in the presidential election due next April, at age 73 that looks unlikely.

Sarkozy and Royal, though not yet confirmed candidates, lead the pack of potential contenders. Polls put them neck-and-neck.

The most recent, carried out by the Ipsos institute and published last week, showed Sarkozy would beat Royal 52 percent to 48 percent in a run-off round if the election were held now.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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