Sarkozy casts a shadow as French leaders seek the sun

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The Independent Online

The dynamic M. Sarkozy, who plans to run for president in 2007, has spent much time on French beaches, personally signing up new members of the UMP. His party's membership has doubled in a year.

So it is worrying for President Chirac that M. Sarkozy's plans are vague. M. Sarkozy - recently separated from his wife Cécilia - has simply said he will spend "some time" en famille on the beaches of the Bassin d'Arcachon near Bordeaux.

Other politicians on the right are uneasy. With an unemployment rate of 9 per cent in a nation that voted "no" to the EU Constitution, the UDF leader François Bayrou said he "doesn't feel in holiday mood, given the state of the country".

Even M. de Villepin intends to limit his time off to two weeks.

In 2003, a heatwave left 15,000 people dead while politicians stayed on holiday. This year, many regions are suffering severe drought and yesterday a tanker delivered drinking water to the island of Belle-Ile, south of Vannes.