Sarkozy and Hollande lock horns in TV debate

French President Nicolas Sarkozy locked horns with his Socialist rival Francois Hollande in a testy television duel that was billed as Sarkozy’s last chance to save his re-election bid on Sunday.

Sarkozy went into the gruelling 2.5-hour television debate on Wednesday evening as the rank outsider.

Polls show Hollande, who led the first round of the election on April 22, winning Sunday’s runoff with between 53-54 per cent of the vote.

The air crackled with tension as the two men, both dressed in black suits and black ties, squared off across a table.

Sarkozy and Hollande clashed repeatedly in their only televised debate as the president said he wanted the prime-time debate to be a “moment of truth”.

In the early part of the debate, Hollande said he aimed to be “the president of justice”, “the president of revival” and “the president of unity”.

He said Sarkozy, in office for the last five years, had divided the French people for too long and was using the global economic crisis as an excuse for broken promises.

“With you it’s very simple: it’s never your fault,” Hollande said.

Sarkozy repeatedly accused his opponent of lying about economic figures and reeled off reams of statistics in an attempt to unbalance his rival.

Insults

“Mr Hollande. When you lie so shamelessly, do I have to accept it?” he asked when his opponent said the president was always happy with his record.

“It’s a lie. It’s a lie. It’s a lie,” Sarkozy said.

“The example I want to follow is Germany and not Spain or Greece,” the president said, declaring that he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had saved Greece from an economic wipeout and avoided the collapse of the euro currency.
 
“Europe has got over it,” Sarkozy said of the crisis.

Hollande shot back: “Europe has not got over it. Europe is today facing a possible resurgence of the crisis with generalised austerity, and that’s what I don’t want.”

He said people around Europe were watching the French election in hope that it would change the continent’s direction towards growth.

The duel was carried live on channels that reach roughly half France’s 44.5 million voters. The streets of Paris were unusually deserted with many people staying home to watch.

Sarkozy needed to win a decisive victory in the debate to have any chance of catching up in the last four days but neither candidate landed a knockout blow.

Twenty TV cameras scrutinised the two rivals from every angle as they sat 2.5 metres apart across a table, twin digital clocks ticking to ensure each had equal speaking time.

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