French rivals in poll face

French rivals in poll face

French rivals in poll face

Official campaign posters for President Sarkozy and the Socialist challenger for the French presidential election, Hollande, are displayed on a wall in Paris. The first round of elections will be held on April 22.

Thousands of supporters of both right wing President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist challenger Francois Hollande gathered in Paris on April 15 for competing rallies, one week ahead of the first round of the French Presidential election.

On the iconic Place de la Concorde in the heart of the city, Sarkozy appealed to his supporters’ patriotism, invoking France’s history and the names of past leaders like Napoleon and Charles de Gaulle. “You are France!” Sarkozy declared to his supporters, attempting to woo right-wing traditionalists with attacks on multiculturalism, teaching unions, affirmative action and Europe’s open borders, while defending families and hard work.

“I will never accept an egalitarian, leveled-out France that turns its back on talent because it fears it,” he declared to wild cheers. “We will never accept multiculturalism. We will never let the founding institutions of the republic be destroyed,” he said, vowing again to hold referendums if his planned reforms are blocked by the political system. Declaring himself the savior of the “French dream,” Sarkozy also vowed to defend France against global capital markets and renegotiate the European fiscal compact, to replace its austerity measures with a plan for growth.

On the edges of Paris’ working-class east, his Socialist Party contender Francois Hollande told supporters that France needed nothing short of a top-to-bottom change. “Why continue what has failed? Why continue going in the wrong direction? We must turn the page,” Hollande said. “France is not bankrupt; it is its leaders who are bankrupt.”

Sarkozy mocks Hollande’s rock band

“I do not want to be president by default. The country is not waiting for a president to leave, but for a new one to arrive,” Hollande said. Sarkozy’s UMP leader Jean-Francois Cope claimed that 100,000 had come to cheer Sarkozy, under a sea of tricolor flags, but observers thought this an exaggerated estimate. The rival crowds looked similar in scale in television images. Hollande invited popular rock bands to entertain the crowds. Sarkozy’s camp mocked the line-up, joking that musicians had been invited because the Socialists feared that no one would turn up to hear Hollande’s stump speech, and promised a more traditional rally of their own. “With us, there will be no concert, but there will be France,” joked Sarkozy spokeswoman Nathalie Kosciucko-Morizet. “If you like Kassav, go to Vincennes, and if you have the patience there’ll be some Hollande afterwards.”

Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.