First shots fired in French election sniping
The race for France's presidency turned ugly almost before it had begun on Thursday, with opponents of the top two likely contenders in next year's election heaping scorn on them.
President Nicolas Sarkozy was the target of a fierce tirade in a book published by Herve Morin, the centrist former defence minister he fired last year in a reshuffle seen as a shift to the right.
Meanwhile, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF managing director widely expected to seek the opposition Socialists' nomination, drew sneers by being photographed by AFP last week in a too-posh car -- a Porsche.
"The Socialist Party is evolving strangely," said Sarkozy's former interior minister Brice Hortefeux. "In 1981 it was the fist and the rose, today it is the wheel of the Porsche," he added, referring to the party's logo.
Strauss-Kahn is the favourite to win his party's nomination to run for president. Critics have branded him a Champagne socialist and out of touch after four years in Washington heading the International Monetary Fund.
One of his allies, Socialist lawmaker Pierre Moscovici, warned that the party needed to "be careful of every picture" and accused the right-wing opposition of plotting a "stink bomb campaign".
He defended Strauss-Kahn, saying: "The president's friends are the rich. Dominique Strauss-Kahn's friends are Socialists."
Polls indicate that Sarkozy would lose the first round of the election to Strauss-Kahn or any of the main Socialist candidates and the leader of the anti-immigrant National Front, Marine Le Pen.
Morin's book, titled "Stop Scorning the French People", accuses Sarkozy of a "brutal, outrageous, sometimes indecent" wielding of power.
Morin plans to join an alliance of centrist parties to fight the election.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon leapt to the defence of the president, who has hinted heavily that he will run for re-election but not formally announced a bid and is suffering low approval ratings.
The criticisms "are unjust and often very low," Fillon told reporters, in a detailed defence of Sarkozy's record.
"Is it vain to appeal to the good sense of the French people who can understand that you cannot change French society in four years?"
© 2011 AFP