- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

PARIS — Nicolas Sarkozy took office yesterday as the new president of France, waving farewell to the outgoing Jacques Chirac and promising a new era of government that will unite political rivals and give a strong role to women.

Mr. Sarkozy said his priorities would include restoring “order and authority” to a nation where riots by largely black and Arab youths erupted in run-down housing projects in 2005, and where tensions and frustration still simmer over discrimination and alienation. He is expected to quickly form a government and has pledged that half the ministers will be women.

Mr. Chirac, ending 12 years in power, entrusted the country’s nuclear codes to his successor in a private meeting that was a high point of the transition between the two conservatives.

A 21-gun salute from the cannons of the gold-domed Invalides, where Napoleon is buried, heralded the Sarkozy presidency.

Mr. Chirac, 74, took his leave quietly. He shook hands with his one-time protege who turned rival at the entrance of the ornate Elysee Palace and walked alone to a waiting car. Mr. Sarkozy returned the wave before entering his home for the next five years.

The blunt Mr. Sarkozy, 52, is the son of a Hungarian immigrant and the first president of France born after World War II. The generational difference is evident in his head-on approach to tackling the nation’s problems.

A divisive figure reviled by many on the left, Mr. Sarkozy hopes to announce a new government within days and has met with Socialist Party figures in hopes of including some in his Cabinet. In his first speech as president, he made a frank appeal to rivals to help in his task.

“I want to express my conviction that in the service of France there are no camps,” he said. “To all those who want to serve their country, I say I am ready to work with them and I will not ask them to deny their convictions.”

In a sign of his determination to act quickly, Mr. Sarkozy left immediately yesterday for Berlin to discuss European issues, including the hobbled European Union, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Immediate signs of change were the touches of glamour and a more relaxed atmosphere that marked the meticulously planned inauguration. A guard chatted with Mr. Sarkozy’s 10-year-old son, Louis. Four elder children were present — two sons from Mr. Sarkozy’s first marriage and two stepdaughters from his wife Cecilia’s first marriage — excitedly watching the proceedings.

Before leaving for Berlin, a beaming Mr. Sarkozy paraded in an open car up the famed Champs-Elysees, escorted by Republican Guards on motorcycles or on horseback. He placed a wreath and relighted the eternal flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe.

In the morning ceremony, Mr. Sarkozy received the insignia of the Grand Croix from the hands of Gen. Jean-Pierre Kelche, who heads the prestigious Legion of Honor, and the necklace of the Great Master of the Order of the Legion of Honor. Each linked medallion of the necklace bears the name of a president, with Mr. Sarkozy’s name recently added.

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