Chirac's rival wrests control of ruling party

PARIS, NOV. 29. On the eve of French President, Jacques Chirac's 72nd birthday, his archrival, Nicholas Sarkozy, 23 years younger, has wrested control of the ageing politician's ruling UMP party.

The ambitious Finance Minister who resigned his portfolio this morning, was formally named the new leader of the ruling conservative party on Sunday, ushering dramatic changes in France's political landscape. Mr. Sarkozy is widely seen as the most probable right wing candidate to replace Mr. Chirac as French President in 2007.

In a televised acceptance speech before 40,000 members of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) outside Paris, Mr. Sarkozy vowed to use his new job to shake up France with reform and hinted that the Chirac era was drawing to a close.

`New horizon ahead'

"A new horizon lies ahead of us, it is now that we must make our dreams a reality," he said over cheers and the waving of the French and party flags.

The party leadership is considered a springboard for the presidential elections in two and a half years' time that Mr. Chirac may or may not contest.

He is by far the most popular politician in the country today.

In contrast, there was not one placard, not one slogan, not one tee shirt in praise of Mr. Chirac. Mr. Sarkozy is ambitious and is not burdened by Centrist sentiments. Mr. Chirac has attempted to occupy the Centre in France's political terrain. Mr. Sarkozy is ultra Right. He will be acceptable to industrialists and those who feel France should opt for more privatisation. Under Mr. Sarkozy, France would take a sharp turn to the Right.

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