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Chirac Pledges New PM Will Address French Concerns


French President Jacques Chirac vowed Tuesday his reshuffled government will respond to French concerns, two days after voters rejected the European constitution in a referendum. Lisa Bryant has more from Paris on the government changes, which include a new prime minister, Dominique de Villepin.

In a televised address Tuesday, Mr. Chirac praised 51-year-old Mr. de Villepin as the man capable of reinvigorating the government and confronting economic and social problems ordinary French face today.

Mr. de Villepin has the competency and experience necessary to lead the government, Mr. Chirac said. He will be able to ensure France can remain strong in the face of global economic competition while also loyal to its social and republican traditions.

Mr. Chirac also appointed Nicolas Sarkozy, head of his center-right Union for a Popular Movement party, into an unspecified ministerial post. Political pundits predict Mr. Sarkozy will be returning to his old job as interior minister.

The reshuffle makes good on Mr. Chiracs promise to inject new dynamism into his unpopular government, two days after French rejected the European constitution in a referendum. Analysts explain the no vote as, in large part, a rejection of unpopular domestic reforms pushed through under his former prime minister, Jean Pierre Raffarin.

But Mr. Chirac stressed that France would remain an active member in the European Union, even though the country has become the first EU member to reject the constitution.

"We cannot preserve our economic and social values," Mr. Chirac said, and added, "we cant send out our values into the world without keeping all our place in Europe."

Mr. de Villepin is a charismatic politician, who spoke passionately against the U.S.-led war in Iraq two years ago as Frances former foreign minister. But he has never been elected to public office, and analysts wonder if he will be capable of turning the government around.

Mr. Chirac also praised Mr. Raffarin for his service over the last three years.

Mr. Chirac said that during his tenure as prime minister, Mr. Raffarin reestablished the states authority, reduced insecurity and created the conditions to kick start the economy, including presiding over health care and pension reforms. Economists say such reforms are necessary, but they were widely unpopular, and ultimately propelled Mr. Raffarins departure from the government Tuesday.

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