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Sarkozy Returns to Prepare Presidency
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Nicolas Sarkozy, back from a post-election vacation, plunged into preparing for the presidency Thursday, huddling with lawmakers from his conservative party to plan strategy for next month's legislative elections that are crucial to his plans for reform.

Sarkozy was to make his first public appearance since Sunday's election victory, alongside outgoing President Jacques Chirac at a ceremony commemorating victims of slavery. Sarkozy takes over on May 16 from Chirac, who is leaving after 12 years in office.

Anti-Sarkozy protests continued for a fourth night, though post-election unrest that left more than 1,200 cars burned around the country earlier this week appeared to be ebbing.

Hundreds of far-left protesters marched through Paris' Latin Quarter on Wednesday evening. Riot police detained dozens of people while enforcing a buffer zone between those protesters and far-right activists holding a commemoration nearby, officials said.
Sarkozy was meeting Thursday morning with some 500 lawmakers from his UMP party to prepare for parliamentary elections on June 10 and 17. The party currently has a large majority in both houses of parliament but must keep it that way if Sarkozy wants to follow through quickly on ambitious plans to cut taxes, reform labor laws and minimize the effect of France's frequent strikes.

Sarkozy's vow to fire up France's sluggish economy with market-liberating reforms and pared-down social benefits has put many parts of French society on edge. He is also widely reviled by minority youth in rundown housing projects that erupted in riots in 2005 over entrenched discrimination and poverty.

Sarkozy faced a barrage of criticism from opponents for taking off the morning after his election on a yacht trip funded by a billionaire investor friend. Sarkozy refused to apologize, insisting it was his right to take time off before taking over the presidency.

The flap over the luxury outing highlights the complicated relations the French notably the anti-Sarkozy left have with wealth, and could portend the challenge the new president will face in pushing through economic reforms.

Unlike previous French leaders, Sarkozy makes no secret of his monied connections and taste for the lifestyle of the glitterati.

And Sarkozy's frank rapport with money carries risks in a society that has grown fragile by a slumping economy and tends to cultivate discretion when it comes to wealth.

(China Daily via agencies May 11, 2007)

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