Sunday 18 February 2018

Sarkozy in desperate last rally to save political skin

French president Nicolas Sarkozy greets supporters as he arrives at a mass rally in Paris yesterday.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy greets supporters as he arrives at a mass rally in Paris yesterday.

Henry Samuel in Paris

Nicolas Sarkozy told his country's militant unions to "lay down the red flag and serve France" yesterday as he used his final rally before Sunday's presidential vote to counter the traditional May Day show of force by the Left.

Despite polls suggesting Francois Hollande is heading for a clear victory in Sunday's run-off, Mr Sarkozy gave a defiant performance in front of the Eiffel Tower, warning France of the consequences of voting for a Socialist.

Saying that the left was stuck in an outdated class war that pitted "workers against bosses", Mr Sarkozy told an estimated crowd of more than 200,000 fervent supporters that "in France the unions do not govern, parliament does".

His words came as the far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen categorically refused to play kingmaker in the poll, telling a crowd of her supporters that she had no confidence in either candidate and would cast a blank vote.

"You are free citizens and you should vote according to your conscience," she said.

Mr Sarkozy's acolytes had crammed into Trocadero Square, opposite the Eiffel Tower, to hear his address -- a speech that may prove to be one of the last of his presidency.

Shrugging off the prospect of defeat, Mr Sarkozy told his supporters that France could become hostage to the demands of the country's powerful trade unions if Mr Hollande was victorious.

After France's biggest union, the Communist-backed CGT, gave its endorsement to his rival, Mr Sarkozy addressed the unions directly, telling them to "stay out of party politics".

Telling the left it had it no "monopoly" on workers' rights, he said: "You have made workers poorer while claiming to protect them. You introduced the 35-hour (working week). You brought the retirement age back to 60 without the slightest centime to finance it. You will increase labour costs," he said.

Even as Mr Sarkozy spoke, almost 50,000 unionists descended on Paris' revolutionary Place de la Bastille, one of hundreds of marches around France, in a traditional Labour Day show of force to celebrate workers' rights.

Mr Hollande stayed away but several top Socialist Party officials, including the leader Martine Aubry, were in the cortege.

With campaigning to end on Friday and with Mr Hollande up to 10 points ahead in polls, all eyes are on a sole televised debate tonight, seen as Mr Sarkozy's last chance to swing the election in his favour. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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