Sarkozy faces uphill battle

Sarkozy faces uphill battle

Sarkozy faces uphill battle

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says the remarks made by Interior Minister Claude Gueant (L) were ‘common sense.’ ‘Contrary to left-wing relativist ideology, for us, not all civilizations are equal,’ Gueant said.

One of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s top ministers has found himself engulfed by a political storm after declaring that not all civilizations are equal.

Sarkozy, often accused of fishing for far-right voters to bolster his re-election prospects, defended Interior Minister Claude Gueant but opposition left-wingers cried foul. Gueant made the remarks in a conversation with students. “Contrary to the left-wing relativist ideology, for us, not all civilizations are equal. Those who defend humanity seem more advanced to us than those who deny it. Those who defend freedom, equality and brotherhood seem to us superior to those that accept tyranny, subjugation of women and social or ethnic hatred.”

Gueant made the remarks on Feb. 4 behind closed doors, but they quickly began circulating online over Twitter. Sarkozy, who is trailing Socialist challenger Francois Hollande in the polls, said the remarks were “common sense.”“The interior minister said a civilization, a regime [or] a society that does not give the same place and rights to both men and women does not have the same values. It is common sense,” Sarkozy said, Reuters reported.

‘Voluntary and intentional’

Hollande tried to place himself above the bickering over Gueant’s remarks. “I don’t want to divide the French people or encourage one-upmanship. The state’s role at all levels is not to agitate, to provoke or fuel fears,” he told journalists. But Hollande’s camp accused Gueant of fishing for votes from the far right to help boost the president’s flagging poll ratings.

“It was premeditated, voluntary and intentional,” said Hollande’s election campaign chief, Pierre Moscovici. “It would be good if Sarkozy disavowed him ... but he won’t do it because he is on campaign,” he said on LCI TV. Hollande and Sarkozy pulled ahead of rivals in an opinion poll Feb. 6 in the second recent survey to suggest the April-May election could become a clear two-horse race. Hollande surged ahead to double his lead over Sarkozy to 8 points, while Sarkozy also looks to have gained a full 10-point lead over far-right leader Marine Le Pen and 12 points ahead of centrist Francois Bayrou, according to the survey by pollster BVA.

The poll, published yesterday in the daily Le Parisien, showed Hollande remains the clear favorite and predicted that he would easily defeat Sarkozy in a second-round runoff with a score of 58 percent to 42 percent. Yesterday’s poll put Hollande at 34 percent in the April 22 first round, up from 28 percent in a Jan. 6-7 poll, and Sarkozy at 26 percent, up from 24 percent. It gave Le Pen 16 percent support, down from 17, and Bayrou 14 percent, up from 11.

French President Sarkozy, Socialists,