Nicolas Sarkozy succeeded Jacques Chirac as French president yesterday in a simple ceremony, where he promised to unite France and restore national pride.
Sarkozy was invested under the chandeliers of the Elysee Palace, which will be his home for the next five years following his comprehensive election victory earlier this month. In his inaugural address in the gilded Salle des Fetes, shortly after his predecessor drove off into retirement, Sarkozy vowed he would not disappoint the French people.
"I will defend the independence of France. I will defend the identity of France," said the conservative leader, who is 52 and the first French head of state to be born after World War II.
"There is a need to unite the French people ... and to meet commitments because never before has (public) confidence been so shaken and so fragile," he said.
He also pledged to put the fight against global warming and the defense of human rights at the heart of his foreign policy.
His first gesture after his speech was to greet family members including his wife Cecilia, who has hardly been seen in public this year fuelling relentless speculation about their marriage, to whom he gave an affectionate caress on the cheek.
Sarkozy is widely expected to name moderate conservative Francois Fillon as his prime minister, and draft centrists and high-profile leftists into a streamlined cabinet whose line-up will probably be announced today.
Chirac, who ruled for 12 years, met Sarkozy for half an hour in private to give him the launch codes for France's nuclear strike force. He then left the Elysee to cheers, with Sarkozy applauding and waving goodbye from the palace courtyard.
The office he inherits wields more powers than any other elected Western leader.
A 21-gun salute resounded near the tomb of the emperor Napoleon across the river Seine as Constitutional Council President Jean-Louis Debre proclaimed Sarkozy the sixth president of France's Fifth Republic.
Sarkozy inherits a fractured society, dispirited by years of high unemployment, and says he will take a more hands-on approach than his predecessor, who was criticized for failing to introduce badly-needed reforms in hidebound France.
(China Daily May 17, 2007)