Villepin plays down talk of tension with Sarkozy

1st July 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 30 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin on Thursday played down talk of tensions inside the government with his high-profile deputy Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

PARIS, June 30 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin on Thursday played down talk of tensions inside the government with his high-profile deputy Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

"I believe in the need for debate in periods of great change. The strength of our government is that it can carry out this reflection and explore every idea," he said at his first press conference since taking office a month ago.

"Good debate is of course the key to good action," he said.

Over the last week Sarkozy -- who is also head of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party -- has made a series of headline-grabbing statements, giving rise to accusations that he is using his post to serve his political ambitions rather than the government.

Twice he has appeared to contradict cabinet colleagues, first by saying a judge should "pay for his mistake" for releasing a convicted killer who is now the suspect in a new murder, and this week by calling for the installation of new speed radars against the advice of the transport minister.

But Villepin appeared keen to smooth over differences, saying that he himself supported new radars.

The prime minister repeated that his government's main priority was the fight against unemployment, currently at over 10 percent. Parliament was this week debating a controversial proposal to allow Villepin to push through urgent reforms via government decree.

An opinion poll on Thursday showed that 39 percent of the public have confidence in Villepin compared to 49 percent who do not. Some 12 percent had no opinion.

Ninety percent judged the government's fight against unemployment to be ineffective.

A former foreign and interior minister, Villepin was appointed by President Jacques Chirac following the rejection of the EU constitution in France's May 29 referendum.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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