Sarkozy accused of dirty tricks in French presidential campaign

French socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal and defeated centrist Francois Bayrou Friday accused right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy of backroom manoeuvres to block a centre-left alliance in the election.

Sarkozy accused of dirty tricks in French presidential campaign
The row erupted over a cancelled televised debate between Royal and Bayrou, who came third in the first round, aimed at hammering out points of agreement between them.

A meeting initially set for the weekend was called off by the television channel Canal Plus, which cited French rules on sharing airtime between the two finalists.

Bayrou -- who has burned his bridges with Sarkozy by describing him as a "danger for democracy" -- told French radio he was "convinced" the former interior minister was behind the decision to cancel.

"When I spoke on Wednesday of Nicolas Sarkozy's taste for intimidation and threat, this is exactly what we are talking about."

Royal's adviser Jack Lang accused Sarkozy of turning down an extra airtime slot that would have balanced out coverage and called the stance "blackmail".

"Nicolas Sarkozy is behaving like a French Berlusconi, acting as if the media are at his beck-and-call," charged her spokesman Arnaud Montebourg refering to Italian media magnate and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. "The Sarkozy media state is on the march."

With many of Bayrou's 6.8 million voters unsure who to back on May 6, a message from him could swing the balance in favour of Royal.

While Bayrou has attacked Royal's economic programme, he has hinted he could back her if she revises her proposals, an alliance that would dramatically shake up the election.

Royal charged Thursday that regional press leaders were "pressured" into dropping plans for a similar meeting with Bayrou, which both Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and the press syndicate denied.

In Sarkozy's camp, government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope rejected the accusations as "shameful and unworthy".

The candidate's close ally Francois Fillon said the Royal-Bayrou meeting was a "media coup" organised by the centrist, describing him as a "bad loser".

Sarkozy will face off with Royal in a crucial televised debate on May 2 but has refused any direct discussion with Bayrou.

His camp, long allied with the centrists, has used a carrot-and-stick approach, offering its members a place in government, while threatening to scrap electoral deals that allowed them to win seats in parliament.

Bayrou has ruled out any electoral deal with the Socialist Party (PS) or UMP, announcing the creation of a new party, the Democratic Party, to contest legislative elections in June.

But at least 16 of the 29 members of parliament from his Union for French Democracy (UDF) have already said they would vote for Sarkozy.

Royal made a powerful overture to centrists camp on Monday, promising ministerial posts in a future government, at the risk of alienating hard left supporters.

Clementine Autain, a Communist-linked deputy mayor of Paris, attacked her strategy in an interview in Le Figaro.

"Segolene Royal is not part of the left that I identify with," she said, warning that "her love story with Francois Bayrou is not making things any better."

Anxious to reassure her camp, Royal said on television late Thursday that the prospect of naming Bayrou prime minister was "not on the cards right now."

In the battle to succeed 74-year-old Jacques Chirac -- president since 1995 -- a dozen polls conducted since Sunday show Sarkozy leading with 51 to 54 percent of voting intentions, ahead of Royal with 46 to 49 percent.

Opinion polls give varying figures on how Bayrou's supporters will vote. A CSA poll published Friday said 47 percent will back Royal and 35 percent Sarkozy.

While both finalists have promised to keep their attacks above the belt in the second round campaign, which officially kicked off at midnight Thursday, they traded indirect blows late Thursday.

Asked on television to name Sarkozy's main strength and weakness, Royal answered both times: "He knows everything, he has an answer to everything."

On a rival channel, Sarkozy, when told of her comments, fired back: "Well let's go ahead and choose a candidate who doesn't know everything and has no answers."
Last Mod: 27 Nisan 2007, 13:26
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