Sunday, April 29, 2007

Good moon rising for Sego. Looks like those poll numbers will be shifting quite soon towards the left

Sarkozy in furor over axed debate

PARIS, France (Reuters) -- France's conservative presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy was forced to defend himself in a free speech row on Friday after a defeated candidate accused him of stifling a televised election debate.

Francois Bayrou said Sarkozy had subverted basic democratic freedoms of free speech by using his media and business contacts to pull the plug on Saturday's scheduled debate on Canal+ television between him and Socialist challenger Segolene Royal.

Sarkozy retaliated, saying voters were interested in a debate between the two finalists -- him and Royal -- and brushed off Bayrou's comments as sour grapes.

"I think Francois Bayrou must be very disappointed and I put it down to bitterness" at being eliminated on Sunday. "It's pretty insulting towards me, but I don't hold it against him," he told reporters.

Sarkozy's campaign director Claude Gueant gave a more heated response, saying the accusations were a baseless slander and denouncing what he said were "Stalinist tactics" by the centrist Bayrou.

Socialist sources later said Saturday's debate would now be carried by the independent BFMTV channel and its sister radio station RMC radio, though neither broadcaster immediately confirmed the report.

Royal is keen to use the debate to flag shared values between herself and Bayrou, and draw away moderates attracted to Sarkozy's energy and drive but worried by his hardliner image and perceived overarching ambition.

Kingmaker Bayrou

Since his strong showing on Sunday Bayrou has sought to impose himself as a power-broker in the presidential elections and parliamentary polls due in June.

Royal and Sarkozy are scrambling to win over his almost 7 million voters. Royal proposed the debate to assess possible points of convergence with the leader of the small centrist UDF party.

Asked on RTL radio if he was accusing Sarkozy of asking Canal+ television to cancel the debate, Bayrou said: "I don't have the proof but I am certain of it."

Bayrou said he based his accusations on testimony from people inside Canal+ and "all those who were interested in the debate and intended to broadcast it."

"I say with certainty that we have before our eyes today the proof of this propensity or choice of Nicolas Sarkozy to control the news and debate, and this is harmful for France," he said.

Bayrou's accusations could scare off moderate voters drawn to Sarkozy's energy and drive but worried by the former interior minister's strident image and hardline views on crime, immigration and national identity.

Concerned by a gathering "Anyone But Sarkozy" campaign marshalled by leftwing opponents and already stung by Bayrou's sustained attack on their candidate, Sarkozy's camp responded angrily to the centrist's latest salvo.

"It's slander, a slanderous insinuation," said Sarkozy's normally restrained campaign director Gueant. "It is extremely serious to make such remarks. These are Stalinist tactics. To assert things without proof is extremely serious," he told Reuters.

Bayrou has so far ruled out endorsing either candidate, but his criticism of Royal's economic program was soft compared to his withering attacks on Sarkozy.

"I am not here to say how I am going to vote. I said that I would do so, if I had to, later," Bayrou said on RTL.

Sarkozy censorship?

The row began when on Thursday when Canal+ pulled out of a plan to broadcast the Royal-Bayrou debate citing election rules governing equal airtime for candidates ahead of a May 6 run-off between Royal and Sarkozy.

Bayrou campaigned loudly against Sarkozy's links to big business and media groups, notably the main TF1 TV station owned by Martin Bouygues, a close Sarkozy friend who runs the media, construction and telecommunications conglomerate Bouygues.

"I think all the pressures that have taken place, notably within a media-financial system to which Nicolas Sarkozy is very linked, have no reason to exist in a democratic country where freedom of speech and debate is very important," said Royal.

Michel Boyon, chairman of France's broadcasting watchdog said he was outraged by the suggestion his CSA had put pressure on Canal+ to axe the debate and told the parties involved to stop blaming it for their problems.

A statement issued by the watchdog denied it had ordered Canal+ and two other broadcasters to drop the debate.

"There is Sarkozy censorship in this affair, I'm deeply convinced of it. We know that Sarkozy always operates like that, through intimidation," senior Socialist Jean-Marc Ayrault said on LCI television.

Around half of the deputies from Bayrou's UDF party have rallied to Sarkozy's cause, but Ayrault said that was because Sarkozy's UMP party had threatened to run candidates against them in June parliamentary polls unless they backed the UMP leader.

Polls give Sarkozy the edge over Royal but she has narrowed the gap in recent surveys. A TNS Sofres poll this week showed 46 percent of Bayrou's voters support Royal, against 25 percent for Sarkozy and 29 percent who have yet to make up their minds, although other polls have showed support roughly evenly split.

Original article posted here.

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