Sarkozy prepares to step down as interior minister

14th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 14, 2007 (AFP) - French interior minister and presidential frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy awarded medals to police officers on Wednesday at a ceremony that set the stage for his departure from the key post.

PARIS, March 14, 2007 (AFP) - French interior minister and presidential frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy awarded medals to police officers on Wednesday at a ceremony that set the stage for his departure from the key post.

Sarkozy has said he will step down as interior minister, the number two position in government, at the end of the month to devote himself entirely to his campaign for the April-May election.

"Faced with a culture of violence that is pervasive in our modern societies, our challenge is to respond with a culture of respect and civility," Sarkozy told more than 1,300 police officers, gendarmes and firefighters.

The ceremony, replete with flags and officers in full regalia, was held at Paris police headquarters as the usual venue for awarding medals at the interior ministry could not accommodate the large number of guests.

"We must ensure that we are more effective and stricter against repeat offenders," said Sarkozy, who also alluded to the need to "better manage the migratory flow" according to France's national interest.

Sarkozy has come under a barrage of criticism for proposing the creation of a ministry of immigration and national identity that the opposition has denounced as a campaign ploy designed to appeal to French nationalists.

The candidate of the governing right-wing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), Sarkozy has been accused of using his role as interior minister to advance his campaign.

The Socialists in January charged that Sarkozy had ordered police intelligence to investigate Bruno Rebelle, an aide to candidate Segolene Royal, and to conduct checks on private citizens living near his campaign headquarters.

Sarkozy dismissed the allegations as false, saying that the Socialists were seeking to discredit him at a time when Royal was slipping in the public opinion polls.

While he has been in politics for 30 years, Sarkozy's two stints at the interior ministry have shaped his image as a tough-talking politician now in the running to become one of France's youngest president, at age 52.

His terms as France's interior minister, from 2002 to 2004 and again from 2005 to 2007, saw a renewed focus on combating illegal immigration and juvenile delinquency.

It was also under his watch that riots erupted in predominantly-immigrant suburbs across the nation in late 2005 during which hundreds of buildings were burned and thousands of cars torched.

Sarkozy's critics accused him of fanning anger when he referred to young troublemakers in the suburbs as "rabble" that should be "hosed down".

Equal Opportunities Minister Azouz Begag, an Algerian-born researcher, this week announced that he will not back Sarkozy for the presidency after the two men fell out over the remarks.

While he still retains the lead in public opinion polls, Sarkozy is facing a challenge from Royal and centrist Francois Bayrou, who has stunned observers with his spectacular rise in popularity over the past months.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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