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World News

Sarkozy pledges reform and makes minor reshuffle

LE PETIT BORNAND, France (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a minor cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday but vowed to pursue reform plans after his centre-right UMP party suffered big losses in local elections at the weekend.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy leaves Les Glieres Memorial, commemorating WWII French resistance fighter Tom Morel, in an armoured vehicle March 18, 2008. REUTERS/Eric Feferberg/Pool

“What is sure is that I will need to take a certain number of initiatives to continue the changes that are needed for our country,” he said at the sidelines of a commemoration for France’s World War Two resistance movement.

“I was elected to conduct these policies and that’s what I am going to do,” he said.

The comments, shortly before the appointment of six new junior ministers including new secretaries of state for foreign trade and employment, repeated the government line that there would be no change of course after the election.

An opinion poll by the BVA polling institute showed 63 percent of those questioned judged the government’s economic policies bad or very bad, against 58 percent a month ago.

The poll also found that 51 percent thought he should adapt his policies to reflect the concerns of voters over social issues and the need to protect services, against 40 percent who wanted faster reforms of pensions and public finances.

Sarkozy, whose own personal unpopularity played a big role in the campaign, has made little direct comment on the election, that left the opposition Socialists in charge of seven of France’s top 10 cities including the capital Paris as well as most of its administrative regions.

Ten months after his election in May 2007, his image has been dented by crumbling public confidence in the economy and irritation at a sometimes impetuous and brusque manner that many voters feel is unbecoming of a president.

PRESIDENTIAL

Sarkozy’s public agenda this week has been filled mainly with events in keeping with the traditional role of the president, beginning with a commemoration on Monday for the last French veteran of World War One.

On Tuesday, he continued with a visit to the Glieres plateau in the mountainous Haute Savoie region of eastern France, scene of one of the biggest battles between wartime resistance forces and the occupying Germans.

“This is not the place for a political speech and there’s so much agitation,” he said. “There needs to be a lot of calm in the position I hold, a lot of cool-headedness.”

There was no fanfare about the ministerial changes, which were announced in a statement issued from Sarkozy’s office.

Among the new ministers, Anne-Marie Idrac, former head of French national railway operator SNCF, was named minister for foreign trade and Laurent Wauquiez, up to now the government spokesman, was appointed minister for employment. He will be replaced as spokesman by consumer affairs minister Luc Chatel.

Yves Jego, spokesman for the UMP party, was named minister for overseas territories, replacing Christian Estrosi, who stepped down after he was elected mayor of Nice.

The new cabinet list issued on Tuesday showed Economy Minister Christine Lagarde’s title had changed from “Economy and Finance” to “Economy, Industry and Employment” but there was no indication that this implied a change in her responsibilities.

Budget and Public Accounts Minister Eric Woerth also kept his portfolio.

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Emile Picy and Sophie Louet)

Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Dominic Evans

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