Sarkozy and Royal gird for election TV debate

2nd May 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 2, 2007 (AFP) - Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal geared up Wednesday for a gruelling two-hour television debate set to be the key showdown in the French presidential campaign.

PARIS, May 2, 2007 (AFP) - Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal geared up Wednesday for a gruelling two-hour television debate set to be the key showdown in the French presidential campaign.

"The decisive duel," said the front-page headline of Le Parisien of the verbal joust expected to attract more than 20 million viewers, the sort of audience usually reserved for a World Cup football final.

With just four days to go before Sunday's vote, the Socialist Royal has upped the stakes by warning that France runs the risk of civil unrest if the frontrunning rightwinger Sarkozy wins the election.

She was likely to hammer home that message again in Wednesday's television debate, as well as attacking former interior minister Sarkozy's record as a member of the outgoing government.

Sarkozy, who has said the debate will be like cycling up the Alps in the Tour de France race, needs to avoid being seen to bully his rival or fuel the tough-guy accusations his critics make against him.

"Dracula and Mary Poppins fight it out on screen," was the headline in Wednesday's Times of London newspaper.

"The images are the caricatures of each other that Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy hope to imprint in viewers' minds as the finalists for the French presidency vie for millions of undecided votes ahead of Sunday's run-off," it said.

France has a tradition of TV duels between presidential candidates, which have sometimes swung the election for one of the candidates, but Royal is the first woman to take part in one.

But Sarkozy has rejected suggestions he should be more moderate during the debate, which kicks off at 9:00 pm (1900 GMT), just because Royal is a woman.

"This idea that you should not debate with a woman in the same way that you do with a man is quite macho I think," he said.

An Ipsos/Dell poll published Wednesday showed Sarkozy would beat Royal with 53.5 percent of votes against 46.5 percent. That was a 0.5 percent rise for the rightwinger since the day before, and a 0.5 percent drop for Royal.

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 immigrant-high suburbs exploded into rioting in late 2005 and there have been warnings of a new flare-up.

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.

Both candidates come from a new generation of leaders born after World War II, and both claim to represent a break from a discredited past.

The pair also agree that France needs radical solutions to save it from a huge public debt, stubbornly high unemployment and seething discontent in the high-immigration suburbs.

Royal on Tuesday told some 60,000 supporters at a Paris rally that France faced civil unrest if Sarkozy wins and puts in motion change with "brutality."

"We are confronting a risk: the brutality in the conduct of public affairs could endanger social peace and civil peace," she said.

Royal has consistently trailed Sarkozy in the polls ahead of the election that has been dominated by calls for change after 12 years under rightwing President Jacques Chirac.

The presidential rivals were meanwhile continuing their battle for support from the 6.8 million voters who chose the centrist Francois Bayrou in the April 22 first round.

Bayrou has denounced Sarkozy and has been making overtures to Royal.

Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen on Tuesday called on his 3.8 million supporters in the first round to abstain in the runoff, saying that neither Royal nor Sarkozy were up to the job.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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