Sarkozy stronger than ever after riots

17th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 17 (AFP) - France's weeks of riots may have created many victims, but they have also produced a clear victor: Nicolas Sarkozy, the ambitious interior minister who sees himself becoming the next French president.

PARIS, Nov 17 (AFP) - France's weeks of riots may have created many victims, but they have also produced a clear victor: Nicolas Sarkozy, the ambitious interior minister who sees himself becoming the next French president.

While the French public has given general backing to president Jacques Chirac's government in cracking down on youths behind the urban violence, it is Sarkozy who has benefited most, according to a new survey out this week.

The Ipsos poll found his popularity has leapt 11 points to 63 percent, his "presidential vote potential" has climbed to 61 percent, and 68 percent supported his hardline approach to the unrest.

That puts him well ahead of prime minister Dominique de Villepin, whose popularity rose a more modest seven points to 50 percent, while Chirac lifted his rating by six points to 39 percent.

Villepin, who is seen as Chirac's designated heir for the 2007 presidential elections, had a "presidential vote potential" of 53 percent while the incumbent head of state -- who, at 72, is looking increasingly unlikely to stand again -- managed just 37 percent.

The numbers reveal where much of Sarkozy's fresh support comes from: 90 percent of voters in the camp of the extreme-right National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen (the 2002 presidential contender) think he is doing a good job.

At the same time, though, many in France -- especially those in the impoverished city suburbs where the violence fomented -- blame the unrest on his tough talk, particularly his repeated description of delinquents as "rabble" and "louts".

Sarkozy himself, though, has welcomed all the attention, no matter what the quarter.

He told the French senate late Wednesday that the violence erupted because "the delinquents rebelled" against his zero-tolerance law-and-order policies implemented over the past three years, during which he boasted that 3,205 people had been jailed.

"The moment of truth has come: to see if it's the Republic's order which triumphs, or the order of gangs, the order of 'barbus'," he said, using a term referring to Muslim extremists that some in France fear are multiplying in high-immigrant suburbs.

"In reality, it's a new society of progress and justice we have to build. It's a new republican policy we must imagine together and put in place."

The would-be presidential language is matched by a would-be presidential vehicle.

Sarkozy is also head of the ruling conservative UMP party -- a position he exploited during the violence by ensuring that those searching for, say, "riots" and "Paris" on the French Google website were greeted with a sponsored link to a UMP petition backing his stern policies.

His US-style politicking has, predictably, raised hackles in France, where brashness and flagrant self-promotion are frowned on.

But while Chirac has been left to fume in quiet over his inability to rein in his interior minister, the opposition parties have been left to grudgingly concede Sarkozy's gains.

"Sarkozy knows how to play with fear and has an undeniable talent for communication," a Socialist MP, Eric Besson, said.

"Right now, he is pocketing votes, but when it comes time to analyse this crisis coldly, I think we'll be able to say that he carries a heavy responsibility for it."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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