French minister turns his back on Sarkozy

14th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 13, 2007 (AFP) - French presidential contender Nicolas Sarkozy lost the support of a minister on Tuesday who hinted that he was ready to join the team of centrist candidate and rising star Francois Bayrou.

PARIS, March 13, 2007 (AFP) - French presidential contender Nicolas Sarkozy lost the support of a minister on Tuesday who hinted that he was ready to join the team of centrist candidate and rising star Francois Bayrou.

Equal Opportunities Minister Azouz Begag had fallen out with Sarkozy after he criticised his handling as interior minister of the riots that erupted in October and November 2005 in immigrant suburbs across the country.

He is the first minister to break with Sarkozy, who is the candidate of the governing rightwing party and is leading in public opinion polls ahead of the April-May presidential vote.

Begag, a 50-year-old Algerian-born researcher, said he was rebuked by Sarkozy for saying that he should not have referred to young troublemakers in the suburbs as "rabble" that should be "hosed down."

"I haven't spoken to the interior minister in 18 months, simply because I dared to say in November 2005 that it was not right to use words like 'rabble' and to want to hose down the suburbs," Begag said in an interivew to France-Info.

"I was quite surprised to be the target of attacks from the interior minister during all this time," he said.

After President Jacques Chirac on Sunday announced that he would not be seeking another term in office, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin threw his support behind Sarkozy along with two other ministers.

Chirac has yet to announce whether he will back Sarkozy, 52, who is facing a challenge from Socialist rival Segolene Royal and Bayrou, whose political star has risen spectacularly over the past month.

Begag suggested that he was ready to join Bayrou's camp, describing his candidacy as "good for democracy."

Education Minister Gilles Robien and Jean-Louis Borloo, the minister of employment, social cohesion and housing, are the two remaining hold-outs of the UMP who have yet to rally to Sarkozy's side.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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