'I won't let you down', Sarkozy tells far-right voters

27th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

SAINT DIDIER, France, March 26, 2007 (AFP) - Newly liberated from his job as interior minister, France's right-wing presidential frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy used his first speech as full-time candidate Monday to appeal to the working middle classes and the electorate of the far-right.

SAINT DIDIER, France, March 26, 2007 (AFP) - Newly liberated from his job as interior minister, France's right-wing presidential frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy used his first speech as full-time candidate Monday to appeal to the working middle classes and the electorate of the far-right.

 Sarkozy said farewell to staff at the ministry -- where he has worked for four out of the last five years -- in a brief early morning ceremony before leaving by train on a two-day campaign trip to southern France.

Speaking from the steps of the town hall in Saint Didier, a right-wing bastion near the historic city of Avignon, Sarkozy spelled out his plan for France to a conquered crowd after meeting a group of local tradesmen.

"France has problems that can be solved," he said. "I spoke just now to the baker, the newsagent, the chemist, and what did they tell me?

"They said, 'We are ready to show solidarity, but we don't want someone who doesn't work to earn as as much as as someone who does'," Sarkozy said, drawing a roar of approval as he vowed to "wage war on idleness".

"Equality of chances is not about looting those who fought to have a home or a business," hammered the 52-year-old leader of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), who appeared to be preaching to the converted.

"I think he's the candidate who's capable of changing everything that's wrong with France. He's the only one who has the shoulders, the status to do it," said Aurelien Neyret, an 18-year-old high-school student.

"The English have adapted, so have the northern countries," we need reforms in France and he's going to keep his promises," agreed Gabriel Clareton, a   63-year-old retired factory worker.

More cheers broke out as Sarkozy spelled out his position on immigration and French national identity, which has exposed him to charges he is fishing for votes among supporters of the anti-immigrant National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

"France is a welcoming country, we need foreign labour... but we want the people we welcome to respect us and respect our country, otherwise we don't want to take them in," he said.

"France's national identity includes values on which we will not compromise."

He went on to appeal directly to the electorate of the far-right, drawing a murmur of assent as he said: "I know that on this square there are people who have been disappointed by politics, who have felt betrayed."

"I know very well that many of you, out of anger, either decided not to vote, or to vote in a way that expressed your anger. I am thinking in particular of the National Front.

"I know that and I will tell you something you can hold as a pledge: I will not lie to you, I will not betray you and I will not let you down."

The right-winger championed a tough line on immigration as interior minister, raising the number of expulsions to 25,000 a year, and last year passed a law to promote "selective immigration".

He also supports a policy of positive discrimination to encourage immigrants to integrate in society.

He also claims as interior minister to have been responsible for a sharp drop in crime, though the figures are disputed by the opposition. He was in charge during urban riots in 2005 which made him a hated figure in the high-immigration suburbs.

Sarkozy said he would use the coming weeks to "go out and meet the French people in complete freedom" but insisted: "I am not going to change, I am not going to disguise myself."

Sarkozy is favourite to win the April-May election, though he is closely followed in the polls by the socialist Segolene Royal and the centrist Francois Bayrou.

Only the two leading contenders on April 22 will make it through to the deciding vote on May 6.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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