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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 May 2007, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Sarkozy names ally Fillon as PM
Francois Fillon and Nicolas Sarkozy
Francois Fillon oversaw Nicolas Sarkozy's election campaign
Francois Fillon, a key ally of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has been appointed the country's new prime minister in a ceremony in Paris.

Mr Fillon, 53, a moderate conservative senator, helped direct Mr Sarkozy's successful election campaign.

He is expected to play a leading role in the president's plans to reform France's employment and welfare laws.

Mr Sarkozy, who succeeded Jacques Chirac on Wednesday, is due to name the rest of his government on Friday.

He has promised to halve the number of government ministers to 15, and has said about half will be women.

The outgoing prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, who resigned from the post on Tuesday, received his successor and formally handed over power in a ceremony on Thursday morning.

Francois Fillon
Nicolas Sarkozy's election campaign director and jogging partner
A senator, from the left of Mr Sarkozy's conservative UMP party
Has a Welsh wife, Penelope, and five children

In line with tradition, the Republican Guard was deployed in ceremonial uniform and Mr Fillon arrived via a red carpet laid out across the courtyard at the prime minister's official residence, the Matignon.

During the ceremony the new prime minister said: "I will listen to everyone because a France in motion needs everyone."

Afterwards Mr de Villepin emerged from the Matignon, wished Mr Fillon good luck and said: "He has all the necessary qualities to succeed in the service of our country."

Mr Fillon served as social affairs minister between 2002 to 2004, pushing through a major overhaul of the country's pension system in the midst of large street protests.

He has also served in several other government posts for the UMP party, but lost his place in Mr Chirac's administration in 2005 and pledged his loyalty to Mr Sarkozy.

Reform agenda

The new president said on his first day in office that France needed to bring in more reforms quickly.

Nicolas Sarkozy jogs up the steps of the Elysee Palace (after exiting from a chauffeur-driven car)
Getting France moving again - Mr Sarkozy sets the pace

"There is a demand for change. Never have the risks of inertia been so great for France as they are now in this world in flux where everyone across the world is trying to change quicker than the others, where any delay can be fatal," he said.

Shortly afterwards, the pair put on their jogging kits and went for a brisk run around the Bois de Boulogne.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt, in Paris, says all this is a new and very different style for France, whose heads of state here have traditionally been patrician, somewhat remote figures.

It is clear that Mr Sarkozy and Mr Fillon are serious about getting this nation moving again, she says, beginning by setting their own personal example.

Mr Fillon's renowned conciliatory skills will be much needed as prime minister if he is to succeed in a post often described as a poisoned chalice, says the BBC's Alasdair Sandford in Paris.

Mr Fillon will lead the UMP party into parliamentary elections in June.

Opinion polls suggest the party will gain a majority, giving Mr Sarkozy and Mr Fillon the scope to push ahead with reforms.

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