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SARKOZY

Sarkozy chases far-right vote despite cool le Pen

Nicolas Sarkozy went gunning on Monday for more than six million far-right votes in a bid to catch up with Socialist Francois Hollande who took the lead in round one of the French presidential election.

But it looked increasingly unlikely that the leader of the anti-immigrant National Front, Marine Le Pen, whose party made a shock breakthrough, coming third in Sunday’s poll, would call on her followers to back him.

Hollande and Sarkozy – who beat eight other candidates – will now face each other in a run-off election on May 6.

In the first round, the Socialist beat the presidential incumbent by taking 28.63 of the vote compared to 27.18 percent for his conservative rival, according to final official results.

The first opinion poll published in the wake of Sunday’s vote said Hollande would beat Sarkozy by 54 percent to 46 in the second round.

Europe’s main stock markets fell sharply as traders reacted to the French election results. In Paris, the CAC 40 index slumped 2.83 percent to 3,098.37 points, its lowest level this year.

“The French poll adds to the markets’ mistrust of the euro zone,” said Renaud Murail, a Barclays Bourse trader.

Sarkozy moved quickly on Monday in an attempt to woo the 18 percent of voters who backed Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, saying they deserved an answer to their concerns, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel termed her showing “alarming”.

Hollande’s score cemented his position as the clear leader in the race, dealing a blow to Sarkozy’s hopes of gaining enough momentum from a first-round win to defy opinion poll predictions and return to office.

But it was the showing of populist nationalist flagbearer Le Pen that shook up the race, setting up her National Front (FN) voters as potential kingmakers.  

“We must respect the voters’ will, it is our duty to listen,” Sarkozy told journalists before heading back to the campaign trail in the Loire Valley in central France.

“There was this crisis vote that doubled from one election to another, an answer must be given.”

Le Pen’s score on Sunday was nearly double the 10.4 percent her father, Jean-Marie, took when he ran as FN presidential candidate in the 2007.

Hollande resumed campaigning with a trip to the western region of Brittany, where he said that the FN’s score reflected anger in the country and that he too would listen to far-right voters.

“Nicolas Sarkozy is to blame for the far-right’s high level,” Hollande said. “There are voters who may have been led to this through anger. That is what I want to hear.”

Polls show most far-right supporters prefer Sarkozy but up to a quarter – mainly working-class voters attracted by Le Pen’s protectionist trade policies – could switch to Hollande.

Le Pen’s high score stunned observers and she told supporters after the results that “the battle of France has just begun” and “nothing will be as it was before.”

Analysts say it is extremely unlikely Le Pen will endorse either candidate in the second round, though she said she would make her views known on May 1.

“I’ve long considered Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande as being of a same mind on issues I consider essential, starting with the sovereignty of our country,” she told French television Monday evening.

“I no longer believe in Nicolas Sarkozy’s sincerity,” she added.

In a speech, Sarkozy argued that French voters “tell us we no longer want a Europe that does not protect us.”

“A Europe that does not regulate migration, that does not defend its borders and that opens its markets without asking for reciprocity is finished,” Sarkozy said.

Sarkozy, who had already swung to the right in the campaign, brandished his right-wing credentials in his first post-results speech on Sunday.

“These anxieties, this suffering, I know them, I understand them,” he said.”

“They are about respecting our borders, the determined fight against job relocation, controlling immigration, putting value on work, on security,” he added.

The left has not won a presidential election in a quarter of a century, but with France mired in low growth and rising joblessness, opinion polls had long predicted Hollande would beat Sarkozy.

Hollande says Sarkozy has trapped France in a downward spiral of austerity and job losses, while Sarkozy says his rival is inexperienced and weak-willed and would spark financial panic through reckless spending pledges.

Hollande has already received the backing of other left-wing first round candidates, including Jean-Luc Melenchon who took just over 11 percent of the vote and Trotskyite candidate Philippe Poutou who won 1.4 percent. Green leader Eva Joly who won 2.3 percent is also backing Hollande.

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SARKOZY

Corruption trial begins for France’s ex president Sarkozy

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy goes on trial on Monday on charges of trying to bribe a judge, in what could be a humiliating postscript to a political career tainted by a litany of legal investigations.

Corruption trial begins for France's ex president Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AFP

Though he is not the first modern head of state in the dock – his predecessor and political mentor Jacques Chirac was convicted of embezzlement – Sarkozy is the first to face corruption charges.

He fought furiously over the past six years to have the case thrown out, and has denounced “a scandal that will go down in history”.

“I am not a crook,” the 65-year-old, whose combative style has made him one of France's most popular rightwing politicians, told BFM TV this month.

Prosecutors say Sarkozy promised the judge a plush job in Monaco in exchange for inside information on an inquiry into claims that Sarkozy accepted illicit payments from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign.

Their case rests in large part on wiretaps of phone conversations between Sarkozy and his longtime lawyer Thierry Herzog, which judges authorised as prosecutors also looked into suspected Libyan financing of Sarkozy's 2007 campaign.

That inquiry is still underway, though Sarkozy caught a break this month when his main accuser, the French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine, suddenly retracted his claim of delivering millions of euros in cash from Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Sarkozy and Herzog have assailed the taps on their phones as a breach of client-attorney privilege, but in 2016 a top court upheld their use as evidence.

Charged with bribery and influence peddling, Sarkozy risks a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of €1 million.

Herzog, a leading member of the Paris bar, faces the same charges as well as violation of professional secrecy. The trial is expected to last three weeks.

'A boost'

Investigators discovered that Sarkozy used an alias – Paul Bismuth – to buy a private phone for conversing secretly with his lawyer.

On around a dozen occasions, they discussed reaching out to a top French judge, Gilbert Azibert, a general counsel at the Cour de Cassation, France's top appeals court for criminal and civil cases.

Prosecutors say Azibert, who is also on trial, was tasked with trying to obtain information from the Cour de Cassation lawyer in charge of the Bettencourt inquiry, and to induce him to seek a verdict in Sarkozy's favour.

In exchange, Sarkozy would use his extensive contacts to give “a boost” to Azibert's efforts to secure the cushy Monaco post.

“He's been working on it,” Herzog tells Sarkozy in a call from early 2014.
Azibert was already considered a leading candidate for the job, but “if you give him a boost, it's always better,” Herzog says in another.

“I'll make him move up,” Sarkozy tells Herzog, according to the indictment by prosecutors, who compared his actions to those of a “seasoned offender”.

But later, Sarkozy tells his lawyer that he would not “approach” the  Monaco authorities on Azibert's behalf — a sign, according to prosecutors, that the two men had been tipped off about the wiretaps.

“Mr Azibert never got any post in Monaco,” Sarkozy told BFM television this month – though under French law, just an offer or promise can constitute corruption.

Still in limelight

Sarkozy, a lawyer by training, has long accused the French judiciary of waging a vendetta against him, not least because of his attempts to limit judges' powers and criticism that they are too soft on delinquents.

He will again be back in court in March 2021 along with 13 other people over claims of campaign finance violations during his unsuccessful 2012 re-election bid.

Prosecutors accuse Sarkozy's team of using a fake-invoices scheme orchestrated by the public relations firm Bygmalion to spend nearly €43 million on the lavish run – nearly twice the legal limit.

The long-running legal travails hindered his comeback bid for the 2017 presidential vote, losing out as the rightwing nominee to his former prime minister François Fillon.

Yet like other former French presidents, Sarkozy has surfed a wave of popularity since announcing his retirement from politics in 2018, pressing the flesh with enthusiastic crowds at his public appearances.

Lines of fans queued over the summer to have him sign his latest memoirs, “The Time of Storms”, which topped best-seller lists for weeks.

SEE ALSO: Sarkozy accused of racism after 'monkey' comment

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