Presidential campaign heads for TV debate finale

29th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 29, 2007 (AFP) - France entered a crucial final week of campaigning on Sunday with presidential rivals Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal set to come face-to-face in a prime-time television debate.

PARIS, April 29, 2007 (AFP) - France entered a crucial final week of campaigning on Sunday with presidential rivals Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal set to come face-to-face in a prime-time television debate.

Frontrunner Sarkozy was to address a mass rally at a Paris sports stadium, a day after his Socialist rival held a high-profile meeting with defeated centrist Francois Bayrou to court his supporters whose votes are up for grabs.

Royal, who wants to become France's first woman president, did not win a pledge of support from Bayrou but the televised encounter allowed her to stress areas of agreement with the centrist who won 6.8 million votes in round one.

Despite a series of big rallies planned ahead of the May 6 vote, attention was focussed on the television debate, billed as the high point of a campaign that has been dominated by calls for change after 12 years under President Jacques Chirac.

A record 20 million viewers are set to tune in to the major television networks on Wednesday for the two-hour debate, with Sarkozy to come under close scrutiny following criticism that he is too highly-strung to hold the presidency.

Sarkozy, the former interior minister, dismissed suggestion that his hyper-active personality could be a liability in the debate, saying in a newspaper interview that Royal is "an adversary whom I respect."

"On May 2, I will just be myself," Sarkozy told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper. "Politics is not war. Democracy is tolerance and if need be, I'll have enough for two."

The latest poll showed Sarkozy would beat Royal in the runoff with 52.5 percent of votes compared to 47.5 percent, even though the Ipsos/Dell survey said Bayrou's voters preferred Royal to Sarkozy.

Pledging a "clean break" from the politics of the past, Sarkozy, 52, has centred his campaign around such themes as the work ethic, national identity, immigration and economic liberalisation.

Royal, 53, has promised to protect France's generous "social model" and her 100-point "presidential pact" contains many new welfare projects to fight poverty and joblessness.

The election will usher in a younger generation of leaders amid much agonising over how to adapt to globalisation, attack high unemployment and defuse tensions in the high-immigrant suburbs that exploded into rioting in late 2005.

During her meeting with Bayrou in a Paris hotel on Saturday, Royal sought to show that she could reach beyond the traditional left and find common ground with those who did not share all of her ideas.

"This is an unprecedented event that underscores the modernisation of politics and the need to break out of confrontation of one bloc against another," said Royal.

But Sarkozy dismissed the Royal-Bayrou debate as "small-time scheming" and underscored while on a campaign swing in the northern town of Valenciennes that he was "here, among the French people."

"There are some who are in a grand hotel, blathering on, but I'm here on the ground," said Sarkozy, who rode the town tramway, visited a school and toured a local factory.

A separate Ifop poll showed that 74 percent of respondents believe Sarkozy will be the next president against 18 percent who think Royal will move into the Elysee.

Sarkozy, the candidate of Chirac's governing party, won around 31 percent of the vote in the April 22 multi-candidate first round while Royal scored nearly 26 percent.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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