Moderate appointed French PM by Chirac

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The Independent Online

President Jacques Chirac tried to take some of the heat out of French politics yesterday by naming a new Prime Minister capable of healing wounds on the left and the right.

Jean-Pierre Raffarin, 53, a centrist, provincial politician and former businessman, with little track record in national politics, will lead the forces of the centre right in parliamentary elections next month.

President Chirac, re-elected on Sunday with a crushing 82.2 to 17.8 per cent victory over the far-right leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has promised a "new start" in French politics.

Mr Raffarin, who is liberal in the economic and social sense of the word, is a campaigner for decentralisation, lower taxes and more local control over health and education.

The Socialist Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, resigned yesterday as promised after being defeated in the first round of the presidential election.

He ostentatiously handed back to the treasury €2.76m (£1.8m) in secret, or special, state funds, which had been unspent during his term in office. Mr Chirac got into trouble last year when he admitted that he had kept similar funds for his private use when he ceased to be Prime Minister in 1988.

The choice of Mr Raffarin as Prime Minister, a non-Parisian, centrist figure and above all a new face, is intended to persuade Mr Chirac's vast army of supporters on Sunday to give him a parliamentary majority on 9 and 16 June.