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Sarkozy inaugurated as French president

Nicolas Sarkozy passes by Republican guards after taking office as France's president during a ceremony, Wednesday May 16, 2007 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (AP Photo/Thomas Coex, Pool)
AP | POOL AFP

PARIS (AP) — Nicolas Sarkozy took office Wednesday as the new president of France, waving farewell to the outgoing Jacques Chirac and promising a new era of government that will unite political rivals and give a strong role to women.

Sarkozy said his priorities would include restoring “order and authority” to a nation where riots by largely black and Arab youths erupted in rundown housing projects in 2005, and where tensions and frustration still simmer over discrimination and alienation. He is expected to quickly form a government and has pledged that half the ministers will be women.

Chirac, ending 12 years in power, entrusted the country’s nuclear codes to his successor in a private meeting that was a high point of the transition between the two conservatives.

A 21-gun salute from the cannons of the gold-domed Invalides, where Napoleon is buried, heralded the Sarkozy presidency.

Chirac, 74, took his leave quietly. He shook hands with his one-time protege who turned rival at the entrance of the ornate Elysee Palace and walked alone to a waiting car. Sarkozy returned the wave before entering his home for the next five years.

The blunt Sarkozy, 52, is the son of a Hungarian immigrant and the first president of France born after World War II. The generational difference is evident in his head-on approach to tackling the nation’s problems.

A divisive figure reviled by many on the left, Sarkozy hopes to announce a new government within days and has met with Socialist Party figures in hopes of including some in his Cabinet. In his first speech as president, he made a frank appeal to rivals to help in his task.

“I want to express my conviction that in the service of France there are no camps,” he said. “To all those who want to serve their country, I say I am ready to work with them and I will not ask them to deny their convictions.”

In a sign of his determination to act quickly, Sarkozy was leaving immediately Wednesday for Berlin to discuss European issues, including the hobbled European Union, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Immediate signs of change were the touches of glamour and a more relaxed atmosphere that marked the meticulously planned inauguration. A guard chatted with Sarkozy’s 10-year-old son, Louis. Four older children were present – two sons from Sarkozy’s first marriage and two stepdaughters from his wife Cecilia’s first marriage – excitedly watching the proceedings.

Sarkozy said in his speech that he was elected May 6 with a mandate for change.

“The people conferred a mandate on me. … I will scrupulously fulfill it,” he said.

“Never has opposition to change been so dangerous for France as in this world in complete change, where each is trying to change faster than the others, where delays can be fatal.”

Sarkozy became the sixth president of the Fifth Republic, founded by Charles de Gaulle in 1958.

He made enemies on his way to power. An anti-Sarkozy protest march was planned later Wednesday starting at the Place de la Bastille in eastern Paris, where postelection protests degenerated into violence on several nights last week.

Issues demanding attention include a jobless rate that has not dipped below 8 percent in a generation.

The new president promised to restore the values of “work, effort, merit” and to “invent new solutions.” On the global front, protecting human rights and fighting global warming will top his agenda, he said.

He is expected to appoint fellow conservative and four-time former minister Francois Fillon as prime minister.

The popular Bernard Kouchner, a former Socialist health minister and founder of the Nobel-prize winning organization Doctors Without Borders, is among those considered for the post of foreign minister in a streamlined Cabinet of 15.

Before leaving for Berlin, a beaming Sarkozy paraded in an open car up the famed Champs-Elysees, escorted by Republican Guards on motorcycles or on horseback. He placed a wreath and relit the eternal flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe. Relishing his first moments in office, Sarkozy then shook hands with the crowd.

In the morning ceremony, Sarkozy received the insignia of the Grand Croix from the hands of Gen. Jean-Pierre Kelche, who heads the prestigious Legion of Honor, and the necklace of the Great Master of the Order of the Legion of Honor. Each linked medallion of the necklace bears the name of a president, with Sarkozy’s name recently added.

Earlier, Chirac and Sarkozy held talks in which the nation’s nuclear codes and related state secrets were passed from the outgoing leader to the new president.

Sarkozy will be “more implicated in daily affairs” than his predecessors, said his aide, Henri Guaino. “He will communicate more, act more directly,” Guaino said on Canal Plus television ahead of the ceremony.

The departing Chirac, criticized for being too prudent in reforming the country, leaves behind four decades in politics. In his final presidential speech Tuesday night, he urged his compatriots to stay united and proud, despite uncertainty about France’s place in the world.


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