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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 January 2007, 19:30 GMT
Feted Sarkozy faces tough task
Nicolas Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy promises radical reform and a break with the past
France's colourful interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy has been elected the right's presidential candidate at a lavish rally in Paris. But as the BBC's Caroline Wyatt reports, he is still a man with a tough path before him.

Nicolas Sarkozy is the undoubted star of the French right, and now its anointed candidate for the election battle ahead, with 98% of his party's votes.

On Sunday, he was surrounded by tens of thousands of supporters as he came to rally the party, the stage behind him lit in the French colours, as he promised a new start for this nation if he is made president.

"Only hard work will create new jobs. Only hard work will get this country out of debt. And it's hard work that will bring us together as a nation," he said, to cheers from the packed conference hall at the Porte de Versailles in Paris.

Harsh words

It was an almost Thatcherite call to arms as the party leader promised radical reform and a break with the past.

Sarkozy rally in Paris
Mr Sarkozy won 98% of UMP support, though only 69% voted

Despite the enthusiastic applause, the ambitious Mr Sarkozy remains a divisive figure.

He has had to fight every inch of the way, and his one-time mentor, President Jacques Chirac, stayed away today, and has hinted he might stand against him as an independent.

But Nicolas Sarkozy's young fans insist only he can build a new France.

"He's the only one who can give us hope and create new jobs, and stop the young French leaving the country to look for work in London and elsewhere," said Laurence, a young Sarkozy supporter who travelled to Paris from her job in London.

Her fellow UMP supporter, Philippe, agreed. "He's the one man who can solve the many issues France has, like unemployment at 9%. We can't carry on this way."

Yet the 51-year-old candidate has made enemies across this nation.

As a hardline interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy's harsh words during the riots made him a hate figure for the left, while his plans to make the French work harder are not popular with everyone.

And the toughest fight of all still lies ahead: against the Socialist candidate Segolene Royal.

Her promises to feather-bed French workers have seduced many, especially those fed up with 12 years under Jacques Chirac.

So, for all his energy and drive, Nicolas Sarkozy will find his Socialist opponent a tough woman to beat when the French go to the polls this April.

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