Sarkozy and Royal battle on after angry debate

3rd May 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 3, 2007 (AFP) - French presidential rivals Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal traded fresh barbs on Thursday after neither could deliver the decisive blow in a heated television debate seen as crucial in deciding this weekend's election.

PARIS, May 3, 2007 (AFP) - French presidential rivals Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal traded fresh barbs on Thursday after neither could deliver the decisive blow in a heated television debate seen as crucial in deciding this weekend's election.

Rightwinger Sarkozy, who leads in opinion polls, said he was "suprised by the degree of aggressiveness" shown by his socialist rival during the 150 minute debate when Royal angrily accused him of "political immorality".

Sarkozy called his opponent's behaviour "intolerance."

"It is revealing of the reactions that can come from some quarters of the left who consider anyone who does not share their ideas as illegitimate," he said in a radio interview.

Royal said Sarkozy "did not dare" repeat during the debate some of the accusations he has directed at her during the campaign.

He "reminds me of those children who kick and then cry out first to make believe that it was their playmate who hit first," Royal told French radio.

The debate watched by more than 20 million viewers saw Royal, known for her calm demeanour, go on the offensive, challenging Sarkozy on his record as a member of the government of outgoing President Jacques Chirac.

The most fiery outburst came in an exchange about guaranteeing places for handicapped children in ordinary schools.

Royal accused Sarkozy's government of dismantling Socialist education measures for the handicapped after Sarkozy said all handicapped children should be guaranteed a school place.

"I am scandalised by what I have just heard," said an outraged Royal. "This is the height of political immorality."

Sarkozy retorted: "I don't question your sincerity, don't question my morality ... You lose your temper very easily."

"To be president of the republic, you must remain calm," Sarkozy insisted.

"I have not lost my cool. I am angry and there is anger that is perfectly healthy," Royal hit back, waving an accusatory finger.

*sidebar1*Sarkozy scored points for keeping his cool while the Royal, who wants to become France's first woman president, won kudos for her combativeness in the face-off ahead of Sunday's vote.

"Nicolas Sarkozy did not lose. But Segolene Royal won," wrote the left-leaning Liberation newspaper, who described her performance as "pugnacious, precise and tough."

But the rightwing Figaro daily said Royal had been "often vague, at times aggressive" and that "at the end of the end, Sarkozy's self-control shone through."

Both candidates sought to address their weaknesses during the debate: Royal had to dispel doubts about her presidential stature while Sarkozy faces concerns over his hyper-active personality.

"She won in terms of style, he won in terms of substance. They both held their ground," commented pollster Roland Cayrol in the Le Parisien newspaper.

"I would have to say that Sarkozy won," said veteran political commentator Alain Duhamel. "Not because he delivered a knock-out punch, but because he got more points."

Dressed in a dark suit and white blouse, Royal, 53, came out fighting and asserted that she wanted to be the "president of what works."

Sarkozy, 52, who wore a navy suit and striped tie, replied that he would be "the president who will fix what doesn't work."

The encounter could be decisive in determining the choice of millions of undecided voters. Nearly seven million people backed centrist Francois Bayrou in the first round on April 22, and the second-round campaign has focused on capturing his electorate.

An Ipsos/Dell poll published Thursday showed Sarkozy would beat Royal in the second round by 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent. The rightwinger has been ahead in all polls published since the first round by a margin of eight to four points.

Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, has pushed a right-wing programme based on the themes of work and national identity. His tough talk has sparked fears he would divide rather than unite the nation.

It was under his watch as interior minister that the high-immigrant suburbs exploded into rioting in late 2005 and there have been warnings of a new flare-up if he wins on Sunday.

Royal, an army officer's daughter, has presented herself as a nurturing figure and has proposed a leftist economic programme that would keep France's generous welfare system intact.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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