France's Sarkozy realises boyhood dream

 
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Paris, May 7: Nicolas Sarkozy realised a childhood ambition by winning France's presidential election and will be the first son of an immigrant to rule modern France.

Sarkozy, 52, beat Socialist rival yesterday Segolene Royal with a vow to ''make things happen'' and a vision of higher growth, better living standards and full employment. He vowed to build respect for traditional values and France's national identity.

His triumph was a victory over an ''Anyone But Sarkozy'' campaign by rivals who said his courting of far-right voters and tough line on crime made him a dangerous authoritarian.

Sarkozy also overcame attacks over his father's origins as a minor Hungarian nobleman to realise an ambition to be president which his mother, Andree, said he had harboured since he was seven.

His career has seen almost as many lows as highs. Once close to Jacques Chirac, his relations with the president later became strained, and he has often been seen as a divisive political figure.

He has also suffered marital problems.His path to the presidency came via the wealthy Paris suburb of Neuilly, where he was mayor at the age of 28, and passed through parliament, where he became a deputy when he was 33.

He became budget minister at 38, but was written off in 1995 when he backed a conservative presidential candidate against Chirac.

Brought back by Chirac to oversee European elections in 1999, he was soon on the retreat again when conservatives did badly in those polls.

Sarkozy was recalled in 2002 to help Chirac secure re-election and was rewarded by becoming interior minister, although had had longed to be prime minister.

He built strong public support with a crackdown on crime and immigration and used a brief stint as finance minister in 2004 to rescue engineering firm Alstom, showing his support for a free market contained an interventionist streak.

Back at the Interior Ministry in 2005 he said young people who made life worse in tough neighbourhoods were ''scum''. His incendiary language was widely seen as a factor in riots that erupted in poor suburbs that year.

The unrest came during a painful split from his wife Cecilia, his closest political advisor. Although the couple reunited last year, rumours continue about marriage and she did not vote beside him yesterday.

Tough Language

Sarkozy's views on crime, immigration and national identity worry moderates. But he has won new supporters with pledges of firm authority, reform of the hide-bound labour market and making it more profitable to work than live on state hand-outs.

Leftists portray him as an ''American neo-conservative with a French passport,'' a rabid free-marketeer bent on dismantling France's welfare state for ideological reasons.

His calls for European Union help to protect member states from the downside of globalisation and opposition to Turkey's bid to join the EU formed part of a pitch for voters who rejected the EU constitution in 2005.

But even some supporters remain ambivalent about his pro-US views and criticism of ''arrogant'' French diplomacy during the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Biographers trace his drive to his immigrant origins and desire to prove himself following his parents' divorce and the family's subsequent financial difficulties.

He worked his way through university and trained as a lawyer, eschewing the elite ''Grandes Ecoles'' universities that many peers used to reach he top.

Reuters

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