Sarkozy vows 'alternative' direction for France

1st December 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 30, 2006 (AFP) - French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is making a run to succeed President Jacques Chirac in an election next year, vowed Thursday to steer the country in a new direction if he became head of state.

PARIS, Nov 30, 2006 (AFP) - French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is making a run to succeed President Jacques Chirac in an election next year, vowed Thursday to steer the country in a new direction if he became head of state.

"I feel like the bearer of a new alternative," he told France 2 television in a long interview programme that lasted nearly three hours.

"I feel deeply the French people's desire for change," he said, adding: "I want to be the one who shows that we can roll back injustices in France."

Sarkozy, 51, declared his bid to become the candidate of the ruling right-wing Union for a Popular Movement, of which he is the leader, in an interview distributed to regional newspapers and published earlier Thursday.

Although the leading figure on France's right to succeed 74-year-old Chirac in the election in April-May 2007, Sarkozy faces stiff competition from the candidate selected earlier this month by the opposition Socialist Party, Ségolène Royal.

Royal, a smiling 53-year-old former minister, currently has a narrow lead over Sarkozy in voter intention polls and stands a good chance of becoming France's first woman president.

The latest surveys show 42 percent of voters believe she would make a better head of state, against 36 percent for Sarkozy. One recent poll suggested that many voters preferred her because of her gender.

Sarkozy, however, warned: "Don't reduce Segolene Royal to simply being a woman."

While steering clear of any personal attacks on his left-wing rival, he appeared nettled when questioned over a recent poll showing Royal was considered nicer and more reassuring than he was.

"What do they (the Socialists) propose? To say nothing," he said.

"I have a project... I think that's more important than an image."

The interior minister, who has cast himself as a champion of law and order and of tough immigration policies, said he wanted to "get French society moving" and promised a "pact" between politicians and the people.

But although he is widely expected to secure his party's nomination in January by a wide margin, he is dogged by divisions within the party fuelled by a long-running feud between himself and Chirac.

According to the right-wing Le Figaro newspaper, one Chirac ally, Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, is to challenge him in the UMP party primary even though she has little more than 20 percent support in the party, to his 75 percent.

"I am for competition. I am for democracy. I am for debate," Sarkozy said, welcoming her bid.

More problematic for him, however, is Chirac's refusal to say whether he will seek a third mandate himself — a scenario considered highly unlikely given his diminishing health and low popularity rating.

If the mainstream right heads into the election split between Sarkozy and a second contender, there are concerns that far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen could beat both into the second round.

The latest poll, conducted by TNS-Sofres and released late Thursday, showed Le Pen's popularity rating had risen slightly to 18 percent. That raised the prospect of a repeat of the last presidential election in 2002, when he made it through to the second round.

Sarkozy said "there is not a day I don't hesitate, I don't doubt" about his drive to the presidency, but he stated that he would push on.

He touched on some of the international issues of concern in France, citing the dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and European Union expansion and reform.

On the last point, he reaffirmed his opposition to Turkey's intention to join the EU. This, he said, was because Ankara was refusing fully to recognize the divided island of Cyprus as a member of the bloc.

Sarkozy also responded at length on domestic issues, saying that he believed France had been victim of hidden inflation since the introduction of the euro, that Islam should be integrated into French society, and that he opposed the 35-hour working week brought in by the Socialists.

Sarkozy said he would not step down as interior minister before the results of the party primary, brushing aside Socialist complaints that that was a conflict of interest.

"I'll do my job for as long as it's possible," Sarkozy said, declining to give a precise date for his possible resignation.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news


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