Sarkozy tells election rally he is a 'man of the people'
Nicolas Sarkozy styled himself as the candidate of the people yesterday as he told 12,000 supporters at his first major rally that he kept France strong by averting economic "catastrophe".
Unable to all squeeze into the 8,000-capacity hall, thousands had to watch the hour-long speech from giant screens outside as Mr Sarkozy's UMP party put on a show of force in Marseille, France's biggest city run by the right.
A sea of tricolor flags, a blockbuster-style campaign anthem and the presence of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy -- attending her first ever campaign rally -- were designed to help the incumbent belie polls predicting defeat to Socialist rival Francois Hollande in elections beginning April 22.
"I have come to speak to the people of France," he thundered, repeating that he had "succeeded in avoiding (economic) catastrophe" and his reforms had been "masked by the crisis".
Anyone seeking proof that France was not as badly hit as others should ask a "Greek worker" or an "Italian pensioner", he said.
"To downplay the crisis is not only dishonest, it is dangerous," he said -- clearly accusing Mr Hollande of doing so.
Mr Sarkozy backs an EU fiscal pact drawn up with Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel on tightening budgetary austerity rules. Mr Hollande wants to relax and amend it to place the focus more on growth.
With 63 days to go before round one, the two mainstream candidates have begun to widen their advance on the remaining contenders.
A focus on traditional conservative values and a promise of handing power to the people to circumvent the "elites" through referendums on welfare and immigration has helped Mr Sarkozy pull out of striking range of Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front candidate. He is now between seven and 11 points clear.
But it has done little to dent the lead of Mr Hollande, despite a difficult week for the Socialist -- accused of doublespeak by attacking unregulated "finance" while seemingly placating the City of London.
Mr Sarkozy yesterday warned of the dangers of picking an adversary who "pretends to be Thatcher in London and Mitterrand in Paris".
His camp is hoping a "carpet-bomb campaign" in which he injects new ideas and publicity stunts on a daily basis will allow him to dictate the agenda.
Stuck with the nickname of "president of the rich", Mr Sarkozy is trying to recast himself as a man of the people, the underdog which the 'system' -- the media, pollsters and the left -- want to evict. (©Daily Telegraph, London)