Sun, Jul 17, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Minister insults Chirac in public

THE GUARDIAN , PARIS

Would-be French president Nicolas Sarkozy has delivered his most scathing public insult to President Jacques Chirac, comparing him to the dithering, ill-fated Louis XVI.

In an astonishing outburst by a serving minister against his head of state, Sarkozy announced: "I'm not going to quietly mend locks at Versailles while a revolt is brewing in France."

The remark was seen as an allusion to Chirac and the French monarch who was overthrown and executed during the French Revolution.

"For 20 years as a result of immobility, waffle, avoiding reality and ducking challenges, France is in revolt," the interior minister said. "I'm trying to listen."

"I'm ready to give a lot. The French are demanding action, they are demanding that we throw out old ideas," he said.

His remarks could not have been more indiscreetly delivered. Sarkozy chose to air his view of France's president to a group of journalists invited for the first time to the interior minister's Bastille Day garden party.

Even by Sarkozy's standards it was a remarkable performance. The invited reporters were open mouthed as the minister delivered his coup de grace.

Sarkozy, France's most popular politician, rose to power as a protege of Chirac, but fell out with him in the 1995 presidential election in which he supported a rival candidate.

He has since styled himself as Chirac's replacement, and his hand was strengthened after France's "no" vote in the EU referendum, when the president was forced to bring him into the government while allowing him to keep his powerful position as head of the center-right UMP bloc.

Sarkozy's barbs were a sharp reminder of what a difference a year makes. In his Bastille Day speech a year ago Chirac had sought to put his young rival in his place, with his famous remark, "I decide, he executes."

Sarkozy, who hosted the party for more than 2,000 military staff, gendarmes, police and firemen, was not accompanied by his wife, Cecilia. The minister has admitted they are going through marital difficulties.

His party was held at the interior ministry in Place Beauvau, 100m from a garden party hosted by Chirac at the Elysee Palace.

Sarkozy invited journalists into his office, after arriving from the Elysee. He told them he had been overwhelmed by guests asking for autographs and photographs.

"What on earth would they be like if one was out campaigning," said Sarkozy, who has made no secret of his intention to stand for president in 2007 when Chirac's term in office ends.

Earlier Sarkozy had questioned the need for the president to give his traditional July 14 address when "there is no news to give them and most are already thinking of their holidays." Asked what he thought the president might say, he responded sharply: "I'm not his spokesman."

In yesterday's editorial, Le Monde said it was difficult to imagine that this "deadly game" between the president and Sarkozy could continue for another 22 months until the presidential election.

"On 14 July 1789, the day the Bastille was stormed, Louis XVI wrote in his diary: `Nothing.' We are tempted to employ the same word regarding the 11th televised interview with Jacques Chirac for July 14. He had, in fact, nothing to say to the French," it said.

"France is revolting while her princes try to amuse the gallery by tripping each other up. A worrying image of the end of a reign," the editorial said.

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