Sarkozy appoints Fillon premier, new cabinet expected Friday
May 17, 2007 - 10:08:37 PM

Paris, May 17 - French President Nicolas Sarkozy Thursday appointed his close aide, Gaullist politician Francois Fillon, as prime minister amid speculations over who he would pick for his cabinet on Friday.

The announcement by the Elysee Palace came a day after Sarkozy himself took office, following an election victory on May 6 in which the conservative defeated his socialist rival Segolene Royal.

Fillon, a 53-year-old former social and education minister and labour minister, succeeds Dominique de Villepin. In his first speech Thursday, he promised to defend the identity and republican values of France.

His appointment drew criticism from the opposition, with socialist leader Francois Hollande saying: 'Francois Fillon is everything but a new man.

'All along, his work has been marked by painful conflicts,' he added.

Sarkozy has promised to provide France with a diverse 15-minister cabinet, one that will reflect his desire to unify the nation.

He was reported to have approached socialist Bernard Kouchner, 67, to serve as foreign minister. Kouchner is a founder of the aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres - who made a name for himself as the UN's administrator for Kosovo.

Former prime minister Alain Juppe was expected to take on a central role of minister for sustainable development in Sarkozy's cabinet, according to media reports.

It was also understood that Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie was to change posts, becoming interior minister.

The economics and finance portfolio was expected to be shared, while government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope, by his own account, has been asked by Sarkozy to head the UMP faction in parliament.

In his speech at the Elysee Palace, Fillon echoed stressed France's identity: 'In a world of 7 billion people, the 60 million French must remain united.

'The greatest strength of France is the French themselves,' added the close Sarkozy ally, who headed the new French leader's election campaign.

Fillon is described as an old-school Gaullist who had made a name for himself in pushing a number of reforms.

Ironically, in a book in 2006, Fillon as a senator of the UMP party had argued for abolishing the post of premier while advocating a strong presidential-style of rule.

During the election campaign, Sarkozy himself had said that the premier should only 'coordinate the work of the government' and should not share power with the head of state.

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