Tempers fray in TV debate

3rd May 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 2, 2007 (AFP) - Right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist rival Segolene Royal staged an often bad tempered televised debate Wednesday that could have a crucial effect on France's presidential vote.

PARIS, May 2, 2007 (AFP) - Right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist rival Segolene Royal staged an often bad tempered televised debate Wednesday that could have a crucial effect on France's presidential vote.

Facing each other across a table, Royal, who trails her rival in opinion polls ahead of Sunday's runoff vote, launched a volley of attacks on Sarkozy's record in government and their disagreements repeatedly flared into ill-restrained hostility.

*sidebar1*An estimated 20 million viewers were engrossed by the two and half hours of exchanges on the reasons and cures for France's economic and social problems. But analysts said neither could claim victory.

In the most fiery outburst, Royal charged Sarkozy with "political immorality" after he said that handicapped children should be guaranteed a place in ordinary schools.

"I am scandalised by what I have just heard," said Royal in outraged tones, accusing Sarkozy's government of dismantling Socialist Party education measures for the handicapped. "This is the height of political immorality."

Sarkozy, who remained calm in the attack, retorted with: "I don't question your sincerity, don't question my morality ... You lose your temper very easily."

Earlier Sarkozy repeated a pledge to cut the number of state employees -- prompting accusations from Royal that he would endanger public services such as health and education.

Sarkozy said he would ensure full employment in France in five years by "freeing the forces of labour", and said the 35-hour working week -- introduced by the last socialist government -- was killing employment.

"She (Royal) still thinks that you have to share out the work like pieces of a cake. Not a single country in the world accepts this logic, which is a monumental mistake," he said.

Royal countered with a promise to create 500,000 youth jobs, funded from existing training and unemployment budgets. She questioned Sarkozy's citation of an economic think-tank that said his programme would benefit the economy more than Royal's.

This prompted Sarkozy to ask: "Why do you treat anyone who is not of your opinion with irony, even with contempt?".

On several occasions, to Sarkozy's proposals, Royal retorted with the remark: "What a pity you didn't do that during your five years in government".

Asked at the end to comment on each other, Sarkozy said, "I have much respect for her. We have a lot of differences, but I hope here we have given an image of a renewed democracy, at ease with itself. I hold no personal animosity."

Royal said she would "refrain from personal remarks", preferring to concentrate on the clash of ideas.

The encounter could be decisive in determining the choice of millions of uncommitted voters on Sunday. Nearly seven million people chose defeated centrist Francois Bayrou in the first round on April 22, and the second-round campaign has focussed on capturing his electorate.

Analysts said neither candidate had scored a decisive victory.

"There were two winners -- with perhaps a slight advantage to Sarkozy. Neither fell into the trap prepared by the other. Sarkozy did not lose his temper and Royal did not come across as light-weight or incompetent," said Christophe Barbier, editor of l'Express magazine.

Former Socialist minister Jack Lang said "Segolene Royal was breathtaking from start to finish. With real panache, she constantly set the agenda. She obviously appeared as the president of France."

But Jacques Myard, a deputy from Sarkozy's ruling UMP party, said Royal "was in a state of near-permanent aggressivity. Opposite her, Nicolas Sarkozy was convincing, able to calmly spell out his arguments without sounding like he was reading from a book."

Campaigning for the second round ends on Friday at midnight. On Thursday the two candidates hold their last rallies, Royal in the northern city of Lille and Sarkozy in Montpellier in the south.

The latest opinion poll released by IPSOS on Tuesday gave Sarkozy 53.5 percent of the vote against 46.5 percent for Royal. A total of 87 percent said they had made up their mind.

In the first round, Sarkozy got 31.2 percent of the vote and Royal 25.9 percent. Le Pen got 10.4 percent.

On Tuesday Le Pen urged his 3.8 million voters not to vote for Sarkozy or Royal. Bayrou has not issued an endorsement for either candidate.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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