French right crowns Sarkozy as candidate for presidency

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Nicolas Sarkozy, the French Interior Minister, is almost guaranteed to be the main centre-right candidate for next year's presidential elections.

To rapturous applause at his party conference, M. Sarkozy promised "rupture" with the consensual right and left governments of the past. He said that he would invent a "new French model" built on a "new humanism" but went on to make a mostly reassuring and centrist speech.

M. Sarkozy, 51, shown by a new poll as the only credible, centre-right candidate for the elections next spring, promised to reduce unemployment to five per cent (from 8.9 per cent now) in the space of a five-year presidential term.

The Interior Minister implied that this would be achieved by reducing state intervention and taxes but gave little detail. He said he would create a new "civic service" in which each French adult would give six months to voluntary activities before they were 30 years old. There would also be student loans - at 0 per cent interest rates - to allow every young French person to study without financial burden.

In a poll by IFOP published byLe Journal du Dimanche yesterday, 45 per cent said M. Sarkozy was the best centre-right candidate for the two-round elections in April and May. His one-time rival, the Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin came an embarrassing second, with only eight per cent. Only three per cent of those questioned thought President Jacques Chirac, 73, should attempt a third term.

The governing centre-right party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), will not formally pick its candidate until January but the party's "summer university", or conference, in Marseilles, at the weekend dispelled remaining doubts that M. Sarkozy would be the choice.

The Interior Minister has been criticised by Chirac and Villepin supporters for calling for "rupture" with the past. In his closing speech as party president yesterday, M. Sarkozy refused to withdraw the word.

"Rupture is necessary," he said. "I want policies which make what is necessary possible. I will abandon policies which explain why the necessary is impossible."