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Sarkozy fulfills vow to name diverse cabinet

Nicolas Sarkozy made a radical break with the past yesterday: France's new right-wing President appointed a Socialist human-rights crusader as Foreign Minister; downsized the cabinet, giving women nearly half its seats; and reached across France's tense racial divide by appointing the country's first minister of North African descent.

The new President has managed to do in two days what most of his predecessors never dared to try. His broad-based government includes Bernard Kouchner, a physician and crusader for forceful international intervention to head off humanitarian disasters, as Foreign Minister. Hervé Morin, a leader of France's centrist party who only rallied to Mr. Sarkozy between the two rounds of the presidential election, was named Defence Minister.

The lineup was announced by new Prime Minister François Fillon.

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The French were prepared for a shakeup under Mr. Sarkozy, a man of kinetic drive and an impatient temperament, who said he would break with the "intellectual conformity" of French politics. (In his first 48 hours in office, he made a state visit to Germany and another journey to Airbus headquarters in southwestern France to pledge support for aircraft workers threatened by cutbacks.) Still, the boldness of his diverse, broad-based government seemed to leave even the skeptics with little to criticize.

A conservative former prime minister, Alain Juppé, was appointed to a new post of Minister of State for Energy, Sustainable Development and Environment. Those three sectors might seem an odd fit in one portfolio. But even France's leading environmental activist, Nicolas Hulot, had nothing negative to say. "Frankly, at this stage, I'm happy that a man of such experience and calibre is taking this post," he said.

Mr. Sarkozy, as he promised, cut the number of ministries in half, to 15. He has also pledged to reduce the size of France's enormous bureaucracy by filling only one of every two vacancies created by retirements, and combining departments with overlapping functions.

Not everyone, though, was disarmed by the new Sarkozy government.

Listing badly after their election loss this month, Socialist leaders said his bipartisanship was a smoke screen meant to deceive left-wing and centrist voters into supporting the President's candidates in the June parliamentary election.

"This is an election-campaign government aimed at securing absolute power for ... Nicolas Sarkozy," charged Jean-Marc Ayrault, the Socialists' Party Whip in the National Assembly.

Socialist leaders also effectively threw Dr. Kouchner out of the party, saying he was no longer welcome in their ranks.

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Dr. Kouchner, 62, was a minister in several past Socialist governments. He founded the Nobel-Prize-winning Médecins sans frontières (Doctors without Borders) and Médecins du monde (Doctors of the World), groups that fly doctors into crisis zones.

He has advocated that the international community intercede wherever needed, either peacefully or by military force, to protect populations from massacre or starvation. "The worst thing is not to intervene," he once said. "When there are massive violations, you have to intervene or else people die."

Mr. Morin, 45, was the parliamentary leader of the Union for French Democracy and a member of the defence committee of the National Assembly. Like Mr. Sarkozy, he has opposed the entry of Turkey in the European Union.

He will preside over a Defence Ministry that has been promised more money and more staff, as part of Mr. Sarkozy's pledge to bring French defence spending up to the NATO standard of 2 per cent of gross national product. The budget is now believed to be about 1.7 per cent.

Mr. Morin initially backed his party's president, François Bayrou, in the first round of the presidential election in April. After Mr. Bayrou failed to qualify for the runoff, Mr. Morin threw his support to the Sarkozy camp.

Rachida Dati, Mr. Sarkozy's 41-year-old campaign spokeswoman, was appointed Justice Minister. A former magistrate, or investigative judge, she is the daughter of Moroccan immigrants and often represented Mr. Sarkozy in the restive immigrant ghettos that he avoided during the campaign.

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Mr. Sarkozy was not the first French leader to bring women into his government. Mr. Juppé did the same when he was prime minister in 1995, appointing 12 women ministers only to fire eight of them after six months.

A final surprise was the appointment of Martin Hirsch as a high commissioner for social solidarity, a term that generally refers to those living in poverty and homelessness. Mr. Hirsch has been president of Emmaus, the vast charity founded by the revered priest Abbé Pierre, Henri Grouès, who died last year.

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About the Author
Foreign Editor

Susan Sachs is a former Foreign Editor of The Globe and Mail.Ms. Sachs was previously the Afghanistan correspondent for the newspaper, and covered the Middle East and European issues based in Paris. More


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