- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2007

PARIS — In what he planned as the last word before today’s election, presidential front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy accused his rival, Segolene Royal, of making “warlike” remarks that undermined France’s democracy.

As voting began in France’s overseas territories yesterday, Mr. Sarkozy attacked the Socialist candidate’s warning of riots if she lost the election as “a worrying form of intolerance.”

Mr. Sarkozy, 52, who was as much as 10 points ahead of Miss Royal, 53, in several opinion polls, issued his final attack in an exclusive interview with the daily newspaper Le Parisien, which he had expected to be published yesterday.

However, advisers to Miss Royal, who had herself been interviewed by the paper the previous day, complained that its publication would breach election rules, which banned campaigning after midnight Friday. As a result, the interview was pulled from the newspaper.

In the interview, posted instead on the newspaper’s Web site, Mr. Sarkozy responded to his rival’s suggestion that voting for him constituted a “risk,” declaring: “I don’t believe we have ever heard such violent and menacing suggestions in the history of the Fifth Republic.

“To explain that if you don’t vote for a candidate, there will be violence is quite simply to refuse the democratic and republican expression of opinion. We have never seen this before, never. This warlike language is a negation of basic rules of democracy.”

He described her remarks as “verbal violence” and said he could not believe his victory would spark unrest.

“What, you mean to say that certain people will contest the rules of the Republic and the law of the majority? I cannot imagine it,” he said.

Miss Royal had told French radio on Friday that “choosing Nicolas Sarkozy would be a dangerous choice.” Asked if she thought there would be violence in the suburbs, she replied: “I think so.”

Mr. Sarkozy has been deeply unpopular in Paris’ suburbs, populated mainly by immigrants from former French colonies in Africa, since the autumn of 2005, when he described local troublemakers as “racaille,” meaning rabble or scum, and threatened to clean them out.

His comments contributed to a wave of rioting, car burning and violence.

The ambitious, tough-talking former interior minister flew back to Paris on Friday to give the Parisien interview after a whistle-stop visit to a memorial to the World War II French Resistance in the Alps.

The Sunday Telegraph, the only British newspaper accompanying Mr. Sarkozy at his campaign finale, watched him deliver a short history lesson, 5,000 feet up a mountain, before being presented with a platter of cheese and a cow bell.

Standing on the Plateau des Glieres, where 500 Resistance fighters — many just teenagers — made a last stand against a 10,000-strong occupying force in 1944, Mr. Sarkozy said his decision to finish his campaign there was symbolic.

“I came here to understand what happened less than a century ago in France. These things must never happen again, and that’s the whole point of politics — to be a barrage against the follies of men,” he said.

“This is not just a mountain. It is a place with immense importance in the history of France. Here, people fought for France and died for France.”

Mr. Sarkozy, an unabashed admirer of Britain and the United States, borrowed phrases from President John F. Kennedy when he said present-day youths might learn an example from the Resistance fighters’ sacrifice.

He said of their leader, Tom Morel, who was 28: “He didn’t ask what France could do for him, he asked what he could do for France, and that message is very modern. Being a citizen carries rights but also responsibilities.”

Miss Royal spent Friday on a mini-tour of areas of Brittany that voted strongly for her in the first round.

If, when the first results are announced at 8 p.m. today, Mr. Sarkozy has won, he has vowed to go into retreat for 10 days of rest and contemplation “to reflect” on his responsibilities.

Campaign insiders suggest he may go to Saint Pierre de Solesmes Abbey, in the Sarthe region of west France, near the home of his former government colleague and campaign leader, Francois Fillon.

Yesterday, a member of the abbey, which was founded in 1010, denied any knowledge of a booking by Mr. Sarkozy.

In the interview, Mr. Sarkozy said his many visits across France had revealed the “passion the French have for politics.” About 85 percent of voters turned out for the first round of balloting.

He said he was approaching today’s deciding vote “without exaltation, without excitement, with lots of calm.”

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