Sarkozy succeeds Chirac as president

16th May 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 16, 2007 (AFP) - Nicolas Sarkozy took over as French president from Jacques Chirac Wednesday, vowing to usher in a period of deep reforms to help his country adapt to a fast-changing world.

PARIS, May 16, 2007 (AFP) - Nicolas Sarkozy took over as French president from Jacques Chirac Wednesday, vowing to usher in a period of deep reforms to help his country adapt to a fast-changing world.

In a symbolic handover of powers, Chirac passed on the launch codes to France's nuclear arsenal and briefed Sarkozy on current agenda items before being driven from the Elysee palace for the last time.

A 21-gun salute rang out from the Invalides esplanade across the river Seine, as the official results of Sarkozy's election victory were read out to an audience of invited guests in the palace's ornate main reception hall.

"The people have given me a mandate. I will carry it out. I will carry it out scrupulously, with the desire to be worthy of the trust that the French have placed in me," the rightwinger said in a 10-minute televised address.

"I will defend the independence of France, I will defend the identity of France. I will ensure respect for state authority, and above all its impartiality.

"There is a demand for change. Never have the risks of inertia been so great for France as they are now in this world in flux where everyone across the world is trying to change quicker than the others, where any delay can be fatal," he said.

Among guests at the Elysee were Sarkozy's wife Cecilia, their 10-year-old son Louis and the four grown-up children they have from previous marriages. Small crowds lined the street outside.

The new president's first function was to rekindle the flame on the tomb of the unknown soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe and lay a wreath at a statue of General Charles de Gaulle.

He will then fly to Berlin for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, where the future of the European Union will be the main issue for discussion.

A former interior minister and head of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), Sarkozy was elected president on May 6, easily beating the  Socialist Segolene Royal on a promise of radical economic and social change.

He has vowed to act fast in office, calling a special session of the National Assembly in July to pass a first wave of reforms -- including tax cuts, trade union reforms, new controls on immigration and tougher sentencing rules for serial offenders.

His first political task is to appoint a caretaker government to lead the ruling UMP into parliamentary elections on June 10 and 17.

On Thursday Sarkozy is expected to name former social affairs minister Francois Fillon, 53, as prime minister. Fillon successfully negotiated reforms to the pensions system in 2003.

The full cabinet is expected to be announced shortly after. Bernard Kouchner -- a Socialist ex-minister who founded the charity Doctors Without Borders -- has been named as a likely surprise foreign minister.

On Tuesday, Chirac bid an emotional farewell to the nation, urging the people to remain "united and together" under Sarkozy.

"I want to tell you what a great honour it has been to serve you. I want to tell you how strong is the bond that from the depths of my heart unites me with every man and woman among you," Chirac said.

On leaving the Elysee, Chirac and his wife Bernadette were taken to their new temporary home in an apartment on the river Seine overlooking the Louvre museum.

The flat has been loaned by the family of assassinated former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri, who was a close friend of the Chiracs. They are expected to stay there until they find a place of their own in Paris.

In his address to the nation, Chirac confirmed that he plans to set up a foundation later this year devoted to "dialogue between cultures and sustainable development".

Before then he is likely to face questioning from judges looking into allegations of illegal party funding during his 18-year stint as mayor of Paris.

Chirac's presidential immunity expires on June 16, and judicial officials have told AFP it is "most probable" he will be interviewed as a witness in a probe into a kickback scheme for paying party workers.

On Tuesday, Alain Juppe, a former aide of Chirac who has been tipped as a minister in Sarkozy's government, was questioned by judges in a connected investigation.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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