Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sarkozy in hot water after vulgar insult

PARIS - Political allies of French President Nicolas Sarkozy rushed to his defence on Monday after he came under fierce attack for insulting a critical bystander at the annual Paris agriculture fair.

Sarkozy, who is in freefall in the opinion polls, triggered the umpteenth uproar of his nine-month presidency at the weekend when he snapped at a man in the crowd who had refused to shake his hand. "You soil me when you touch me," the anonymous man says on a video of the clash that spread quickly on the internet. "Then get lost, pauvre con," Sarkozy replied, using a strong insult which roughly translates as "pathetic arsehole" and literally refers to female genitalia - the sort of language that could spark a bar room brawl in certain neighbourhoods.

Opposition politicians and the French media joined forces yesterday to denounce Sarkozy, saying that as head of state he should be setting a better example to the nation. But ministers said the insult should not be blown out of proportion. "He spoke man to man, that's all. You shouldn't be surprised about this," Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier told Europe 1 radio. "The president is a spontaneous man, direct and quite modern in his behaviour." Higher Education Minister Valerie Pecresse said it was a fleeting moment that should not be taken out of context. "It was an act of irritation in a crush of people and should not fuel any controversy," she said.

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