France's Sarkozy wants to mend eastern Europe ties

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BUDAPEST, Sep 14 (Reuters) France wants to build bridges with eastern European countries, told to ''shut up'' by ex-President Jacques Chirac for supporting America in Iraq, Nicolas Sarkozy told a Hungarian newspaper.

Sarkozy, who was elected France's president in May and is the son of a minor Hungarian nobleman who fled the country when Soviet troops invaded at the end of World War Two, sought to soothe feelings that he had rejected his immigrant roots.

''You can imagine that I am deeply moved to come to Hungary as a head of state,'' Sarkozy, whose mother was of Greek Jewish origin, told Hungary's best selling broadsheet Nepszabadsag.

''In a wider sense it is also a signal to central Europe, aimed at clearing up any misunderstandings arisen in recent years.'' Chirac told east European leaders in 2003 to ''shut up'' after they supported the US war in Iraq.

Several eastern European countries, 10 of which have joined the European Union since 2004, sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan and some also agreed to host US military bases and a controversial missile shield on their territories.

Unlike Poland, the largest of the new members which is fiercely opposed to Russia, Hungary's Socialist government has good relations with Moscow and Sarkozy said energy was one of the fields where Hungary could play a central role.

Sarkozy also told the paper that Europe needed a ''real'' policy on immigration, and needed to deepen security and defence policy without turning into a competitor to NATO.

France has some restrictions on the number of east Europeans working and Sarkozy was accused of playing the race card in the campaign for the French election, which he won in May.

The Hungarian government sees Sarkozy as a moderniser as it grapples with painful economic reforms to cut its bloated budget deficit.

But Sarkozy's host, Hungary's Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, whose career started as a communist youth leader, shares little with the conservative French president beyond charisma.

Gyurcsany is facing renewed protests against his government over the weekend ahead of the anniversary of the leaking of a speech in which he admitted lying about the economy to win re-election last April, sparking months of protests and riots.

REUTERS SBC VC1522

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