Reformer Sarkozy waves goodbye to Chirac
A NEW era opened in French politics yesterday as Nicolas Sarkozy took over as president from Jacques Chirac and pledged a period of major reforms to lift France out of its economic and social malaise.
In a symbolic handover of power, Mr Chirac, 74, passed on the launch codes to France's nuclear arsenal and briefed his 52-year-old successor on current agenda items before being driven away from the Elyse Palace for the last time after 12 years in residence.
A 21-gun salute rang out from the esplanade of the Invalides across the River Seine to mark Mr Sarkozy's assumption of the presidency as the results of his election victory were read out to invited guests in the Elyse's ornate main reception hall.
Mr Chirac yesterday confirmed plans to set up a foundation later this year devoted to "dialogue between cultures and sustainable development".
However, his presidential immunity expires on 16 June and judicial officials have said it is "most probable" he will be interviewed as a witness in an investigation into a kickback scheme for paying workers of his RPR party during his 18-year stint as mayor of Paris.
In a ten-minute televised inaugural address, Mr Sarkozy said France needed "to take risks and follow initiatives" and called for change and national unity.
He added that the country also needed to "rehabilitate the values of work, effort, merit and respect" and defeat intolerance.
Mr Sarkozy inherits a country divided over its future and beset by sluggish economic growth, with unemployment of more than 8 per cent and social tensions, especially in the deprived, multi-ethnic Paris suburbs.
He said his first decision was to make all schools read a letter home written by a young Second World War resistance fighter.
He said he could never read Guy Moquet's letter - written before his execution in 1941 at the age of 17 - without being "profoundly moved", and said it was essential children knew the horror and barbarism of war.
Mr Sarkozy said: "The people have given me a mandate; I will carry it out scrupulously, with the desire to be worthy of the trust the French have placed in me. There is a demand for change. Never have the risks of inertia been so great for France as they are now in this world, where everyone is trying to change quicker than others, where any delay can be fatal."
The new president finished a whirlwind first day by jetting to Berlin to meet Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, to discuss his proposals for relaunching the European constitution rejected by French voters in a referendum two years ago.
Mr Sarkozy is expected to waste no time starting reforms in his first 100 days in office, including tax cuts, trade union rules, new controls on immigration and tougher sentencing rules for repeat offenders.
Mr Chirac, once a rival of Mr Sarkozy, urged people to remain "united" under his successor.
ENTENTE CORDIALE ONCE AGAIN
TWO historically rocky relationships for the new French president showed signs of thawing as Nicolas Sarkozy took office yesterday.
Jacques Chirac, Mr Sarkozy's former mentor turned arch rival gave him a cordial, almost friendly wave as he left the Elyse Palace and he received a public kiss on the lips from his once-estranged wife Cecilia.
Mr Sarkozy headed for his wife moments after making his first speech as head of state and affectionately stroked her face. The 49-year-old former model, conspicuously absent from his side during the presidential campaign, appeared surprised at the gesture, but later she kissed him on the lips after a brief hesitation when he went to peck her on the cheek.
Mrs Sarkozy left her husband for an advertising executive in 2005 but the couple were reunited in January 2006. The question now is whether the fiercely independent former PR executive will move into the Elyse Palace with her husband. She once said: "I don't see myself as a first lady. It bores me."
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