Sarkozy to leave government for election race

25th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 25, 2007 (AFP) - Nicolas Sarkozy, the right-wing frontrunner in France's presidential election, stands down as interior minister on Monday to focus full-time on the race as it enters its final four-week stretch.

PARIS, March 25, 2007 (AFP) - Nicolas Sarkozy, the right-wing frontrunner in France's presidential election, stands down as interior minister on Monday to focus full-time on the race as it enters its final four-week stretch.

Sarkozy will officially resign his position as number two in the French government at a ceremony on Monday morning, handing over to an interim successor -- expected to be Francois Baroin, the overseas minister -- who will remain in post until the June legislative elections.

Released from his ministerial duties and his links with the government of President Jacques Chirac, the 52-year-old Sarkozy will then leave immediately for the southern city of Avignon, the first stop in a new phase of his campaign.

Once close, the two men's relations have been badly strained by Sarkozy's pledge to break with Chirac's record in power if elected. Chirac waited until the very last moment to give Sarkozy his official backing last week, as candidate for the ruling Union for a Popular Movement.

Sarkozy's five years as interior minister, in 2002-2004 and 2005-2007, did more than anything in his career to shape his profile as a tough-talking man of action, even though his record remains disputed.

But his position as minister also gave rise to opposition charges that he was using his powers to advance his campaign.

With less than a month to go until the April 22 first round, Sarkozy currently leads the race, ahead of the Socialist Segolene Royal and the centrist Francois Bayrou. Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen is in fourth place, well ahead of the eight remaining candidates.

Health Minister Xavier Bertrand, one of Sarkozy's campaign spokesmen, is also due to leave his post on Monday. He is to be succeeded by Philippe Bas, junior minister for social security.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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