Sarkozy Takes Power, Promises Reforms
ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
The new president of France, Nicholas Sarkozy, was inaugurated in a ceremony in Paris today. Sarkozy, who has promised to usher in a period of deep reforms, said he would surprise the French people. But as Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris, one surprise today came from Sarkozy's family.
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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Television networks had live coverage with running commentary of this morning's hand-over of power from President Jacques Chirac to Nicholas Sarkozy.
After posing for a photo, the outgoing and incoming presidents met alone for half an hour so that Chirac could give Sarkozy the secret codes to France's nuclear arsenal. And then, in a rather anti-climatic ending to his 12-year presidency, Chirac shook hands with Sarkozy, waved to the crowd and got in a car and drove away.
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BEARDSLEY: Last night, Chirac gave his final televised presidential address to the French people. He said he was proud of the work they had accomplished together and he urged France to stay united under President Sarkozy.
Mr. JACQUES CHIRAC (Former President, France): (Through translator) I am confident in France and I know the new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, will guide our country on its future path. I wish him the best in this most difficult and beautiful mission, serving our magnificent nation, France.
BEARDSLEY: Today at the Elysee, Chirac didn't so much hand over power to Sarkozy as simply depart, leaving Sarkozy with the palace and the job title. As Chirac's car pulled away, Sarkozy was declared the 23rd president of the French Republic in a small ceremony.
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BEARDSLEY: Sarkozy then received a 21-gun salute from Napoleonic-era cannons before he addressed the French nation for the first time as president.
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President NICOLAS SARKOZY (France): (Through translator) Today, I think about the mandate with which the French people had entrusted me with great gravita(ph). I know I do not have the right to disappoint them. France must be stronger than ever to face the challenges of a fast-changing world - where falling behind can be fatal.
BEARDSLEY: If the official event was surprisingly lacking in ceremonial pomp. It's still captured the nation's attention. Some commentators compared it to the Cannes Film Festival when Sarkozy's wife, Cecilla, strode up the red carpet with the couple's five children, including her two daughters and his two sons, a sort of tall, blond, Brady Bunch clan that kept the French paparazzi clicking away.
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BEARDSLEY: Cecilla Sarkozy, a former model, used to be her husband's most influential political adviser, but last year the couple had a highly publicized breakup and a photo of Mrs. Sarkozy and her lover together in New York even appeared on the cover of Paris-Match magazine. While reportedly now reconciled, Cecilla's absence from her husband's presidential campaign led many in France to wonder if she would be moving into the Elysee Palace at all.
Political commentator Nicole Bacharan says now there's no doubt, Cecilla Sarkozy will become France's first lady.
Ms. NICOLE BACHARAN (Political Commentator, France): Today, her entrance with the four children and a couple they had from previous marriages and the little boys they had together was quite a statement about a change of generation. It was a very new thing, and there's, you know, a lot of electricity in the Sarkozy couple.
BEARDSLEY: In a scene that was replayed throughout the day, President Sarkozy gave her wife an affectionate caress on the cheek under the full glare of the television cameras. Tomorrow's difficult reforms may come, but today France has discovered its glamorous new first family.
For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.
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