Sarkozy camp outraged by opposition leader insult

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Supporters of France's President Nicolas Sarkozy demanded that his main opponent in his re-election battle apologise Wednesday after he insulted him crudely at a lunch for political journalists.

Socialist flag-bearer Francois Hollande, who will face Sarkozy in April's election, branded the president a "sale mec" -- literally a "dirty guy" and roughly equivalent in force to a term like "sneaky bastard" in English.

Tuesday's lunch was supposedly an off-the-record briefing for reporters, including one from AFP, but Hollande's taunt was partially revealed in the daily Le Parisien, drawing outrage from the right.

Mockingly imagining himself in the mind of Sarkozy, Hollande said: "I'm the president of failure, a sneaky bastard, but in this difficult period I'm the only one capable of handling things. I alone have the bravery.

"He's going to present himself as Captain Courageous, courting unpopularity. He's a weak candidate because if that's how he's beginning his campaign it's unimpressive. France deserves better," he continued.

Several of Sarkozy's ministers and supporters in parliament denounced the insult. Lawmaker Valerie Rosso-Debord said: "Frankly, it's a red card offence. You do not insult the president of the republic."

Interior Minister Claude Gueant branded Hollande's attack "unacceptable" and several other ministers demanded a public apology from the opposition leader.

Sarkozy is reportedly privately very caustic about Hollande, and his career has also been marked by several insulting outbursts.

He was once caught on camera telling a member of the public who refused to shake his hand at an agricultural show: "Get stuffed then, you sorry twat."

Sarkozy is trailing Hollande in the opinion polls, which suggest that he would lose to him in May's second-round presidential run-off, but he has begun making up ground on his rival and observers expect a tight race.

© 2012 AFP

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