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France’s Sarkozy sworn in as president

Right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy became president of France on Wednesday, officially taking over from his conservative predecessor Jacques Chirac.
/ Source: Reuters

Right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy became president of France on Wednesday, officially taking over from his conservative predecessor Jacques Chirac.

Sarkozy was proclaimed president when the head of France’s Constitutional Council, Jean-Louis Debre, read out the results of the May 6 presidential election during a ceremony at the Elysee Palace.

Sarkozy is a law-and-order hard-liner who mixes state intervention and pro-market economic views. He is a new generation of leader who promises to lead his reformist drive from the front — a style starkly different from 74-year-old Chirac.

Within hours of assuming office, Sarkozy will fly to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a trip aimed at underscoring the importance of Franco-German ties.

Sarkozy is widely expected to name moderate conservative Francois Fillon as his prime minister on Thursday, and draft centrists and high-profile leftists into a streamlined cabinet whose line-up will probably be announced on Friday.

Former Socialist health minister Bernard Kouchner appeared to have accepted the foreign ministry post, another former leftist minister, Bernard Tapie, told French radio on Wednesday.

“I have the impression that it’s yes and I think it’s a good recruitment for the president and it’s a very good thing for Kouchner,” said Tapie. Socialist leaders have sharply criticized the mooted appointment.

Chirac will hand over the secret codes of France’s nuclear strike force to 52-year-old Sarkozy, who comfortably defeated Socialist Segolene Royal in a run-off ballot.

“Welcome to Sarkoland,” the left-wing Liberation daily said in a headline on its front page.

Floral tributes
After a private lunch Sarkozy will ride in a motorcade up the Avenue des Champs Elysees, escorted by the mounted Republican Guard, and lay a floral tribute at the tomb of the unknown soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe.

Security is expected to be tight after sporadic violence from anti-Sarkozy protesters marred his election night.

A shadowy group that has claimed links to al-Qaida said in a Web posting on Tuesday it would punish France with attacks in Paris for electing the “Zionist crusader." Authorities have yet to comment on the threat.

Sarkozy has promised to be a hands-on president in his five-year term and asked to be judged on his record in restoring full employment and boosting living standards.

Data on Wednesday showed France’s private sector added jobs at the fastest rate in six years and growth was seen picking up in the second quarter, good news that could boost his efforts.

But unions and students have warned Sarkozy not to ram through changes in education and labor laws.

“You don’t reform without the students,” Bruno Julliard, head of the Unef student union, told Liberation.

Sarkozy allies dismissed suggestions a probe into a 1990s party funding scandal could deflect Sarkozy from the expected appointment of ex-prime minister Alain Juppe to an environment, energy and transport super-ministry.

Juppe was interviewed on Tuesday as a witness, not a suspect; he was forced to quit elected office in 2004 after he was convicted in a separate party funding case.