'Liar','disgraceful': French campaign turns nasty

4th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 4, 2007 (AFP) - France's presidential campaign is taking a nasty turn after Socialist candidate Segolene Royal called frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy a "liar" in the heated runup to the vote, less than three weeks away.

PARIS, April 4, 2007 (AFP) - France's presidential campaign is taking a nasty turn after Socialist candidate Segolene Royal called frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy a "liar" in the heated runup to the vote, less than three weeks away.

Royal let loose the latest salvo during a television interview late Tuesday after Sarkozy complained that she had branded him "disgraceful" for proposing the creation of an immigration and national identity ministry.

"I never used such words. Mr. Sarkozy is lying. Is a liar suitable for the office of presidency?" Royal said in the interview with Canal+ television.

Royal insisted she had called the proposal for the new ministry "disgraceful" and had not targeted the rightwing candidate personally.

Royal's spokesman Vincent Peillon on Wednesday added fuel to the fire, saying Sarkozy was "a liar, yes, and even a repeat offender for lying."

The tougher tone came as the leading contenders in the April 22 race were gearing up for a no-holds-barred battle to the finish, campaigning hard in the provinces and major cities, publishing books and election manifestos.

It followed a heated exchange last week over rioting in a Paris train station that the Socialist opposition held up as proof that Sarkozy's tenure as interior minister had been a failure.

Paris' Gare du Nord train and subway station was rocked by seven hours of rioting last Tuesday after police arrested a fare-dodger, reviving memories of the three weeks of suburban violence that erupted in late 2005.

Sarkozy, the candidate of the governing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), defended the police in the clashes and suggested that Royal was siding with "fraudsters, cheats and people who are dishonest."

Royal shot back, saying that Sarkozy had "lost his cool" and "insulted" her, making clear that this was conduct unbecoming for a future president.

"This would mean that tomorrow, if Mr Sarkozy is unfortunately elected, he could start insulting the other heads of state and government who do not think like him," she said.

With 18 days to go before the first round of voting, polls show that Sarkozy is in the lead, with Royal as a close second.

But a new BVA poll published Thursday showed that 31 percent of French voters would prefer to see Royal win the presidency, compared to 29 percent for the rightwing candidate, highlighting the unease that Sarkozy's tough-talking persona inspires among voters.

The hyper-charged former interior minister who is calling for a "break" from France's politics of the past gets high marks in the polls as a candidate of presidential stature, but voters also say he worries them.

In the predominantly-immigrant suburbs, Sarkozy is considered an enemy of Arab and African residents for referring to young troublemakers as "rabble" who should be "hosed down."

While all leading contenders in the field of 12 candidates have made a visit to the suburbs a necessary stop on the campaign trail, Sarkozy has mostly stayed away.

Royal and other Sarkozy rivals have seized on his status as a persona non grata in the suburbs as proof that he lacks the ability to unite the nation.

"We need a president who is able to help the French live together," said centrist Francois Bayrou, who holds the third spot in the race.

"I will be the president of the Republic who will restore confidence among the citizens and who will stop pitting them against each other," said Royal.

A runoff vote is scheduled for May 6 as no candidate is expected to win an outright majority in the first round.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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