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Sarkozy calls for support to build strong France

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy addresses his first major re-election campaign rally in Marseille, southern France, February 19, 2012. [Photo/Agencies]

PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy Sunday afternoon called for French people joining him in building a strong France at his first major political meeting in the southern French city of Marseille.

In his one-hour speech to some 10,000 UMP supporters at the rally, the president, who had announced to run for another term, said "I want to be the candidate of the French people but not that of a small elite."

The incumbent claimed his policies had saved the country from "catastrophe", especially when the economic crisis came. "France has resisted" the crisis, Sarkozy said.

"I have a duty of lucidity. I do not pretend that we have all succeeded," he acknowledged, "but we avoid a catastrophe."

"The past five years have only strengthened this conviction: a weak France can not protect the French," Sarkozy stressed.

"What could have happened if France has not been strong," the UMP  candidate warned, citing the high unemployment in Spain, painful budget cuts in Italy and Greece, and even the default of mortgages in the United States, a full picture of global crisis, to remind his audience that France had escaped the worst of its consequences.

He admitted that the country were facing tough challenges such as more unemployment, more difficulties for housing, more working-hours, "But I assume these decisions."

He sweared to control immigration, "while unemployment remains so high, our welfare will go straight into bankruptcy ... then it will always be the same, the most vulnerable will suffer more."

The presidential candidate intended to introduce a form of proportional representation in legislative elections what he believed would strengthen democracy to allow all political parties to have representative in parliament.

"The Republic is stronger when everyone has a way of expressing themselves within the Republic," he said.

Sarkozy also accused his rivals of ignoring the financial crisis and putting the future of the country in danger.

"Those who are acting as if nothing serious has happened over the past three years in the world are lying to the French people," he said. "You do not defend yourself against danger if you deny it exists."

The UMP party faithful, including Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, UMP party chief Jean-Francois Cope and Prime Minister Francois Fillon all presented at the rally to give their support to the party's candidate.

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the wife of the president, also showed up at the rally and praised her husband's first major meeting on the campaign trail as "moving".

But the 57-year-old president, who official declared his candidacy for re-election four days ago, suffered from disapproval rating on pre-election polls.

The Ifop's poll published on Wednesday showed socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande leading the list of candidates with 30 percent in first round while Sarkozy lagged 5 points behind. In the second round scheduled for May 6, Hollande would beat Sarkozy 57 percent to 43 percent, said the poll.

 

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