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Sarkozy opponent pledges to make rich pay for crisis

Date

Angelique Chrisafis

Francois Hollande ... more money promised for schools.

Francois Hollande ... more money promised for schools. Photo: Reuters

PARIS: Francois Hollande, the left-wing front runner in the French presidential race, has vowed to make the rich pay the highest price to help drag France out of its economic crisis, while promising to pump more money into schools and state-assisted jobs.

The Socialist rural MP, who has declared ''my real adversary in this campaign is the world of finance'', launched his manifesto on Thursday, a road map of how the left would deal with the financial crisis. Mr Hollande said he would raise taxes for banks, big companies and the richest people, and use the money to help wipe out the nation's crippling public deficit.

By scrapping about €29 billion ($36 billion) in tax breaks for wealthier people introduced under the President, Nicolas Sarkozy, Mr Hollande said he could find €20 billion to deal with the corrosion of French society: record unemployment, soaring youth joblessness and an education system shamed as one of Europe's most unequal, where one in six children leave with no qualifications.

Mr Hollande increased his lead in the polls after his first big rally on Sunday used Barack Obama-inspired slogans of ''hope and ''change''. But he was under pressure to counter Mr Sarkozy's charges that the French left was high-spending, idealistic and had little credibility managing the financial crisis.

For the first time since World War II, the election campaign is dominated by an unpredictable economic crisis. Unemployment is at a 12-year high, with 2.8 million jobless, and youth unemployment is more than 20 per cent.

With France losing its AAA credit rating, and a gaping hole in state welfare coffers, the French left cannot make its traditional high-spending promises on public services, and has little room for manoeuvre.

If Mr Hollande's Sunday rally was aimed at injecting some dazzle into what critics have called an unexciting campaign, the manifesto launch marked Mr Hollande's return to the careful, number-crunching technocrat who ran the Socialist party for 11 years.

Le Nouvel Observateur likened him to an anaesthetist sitting in a white coat by the bed reassuring France about its major surgery. Le Monde called it a ''Churchillian'' manifesto; France isn't at war, but ''things are bad'', the paper said.

If there is to be blood, sweat and tears in France, Mr Hollande said they would come from the richest 5 per cent. ''If there are sacrifices to be made, and there will be, then it will be for the wealthiest to make them''.

Mr Sarkozy's UMP party said Mr Hollande's manifesto would lead to a ''middle class tax bloodbath''. The party leader, Jean-Francois Cope, likened Mr Hollande to the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez.

Mr Sarkozy is to announce a last-ditch reform package this weekend, including a likely rise in sales tax to help meet social welfare costs. The Socialists claim this will hit the middle class the hardest.

Meanwhile, Mr Hollande, who aims to be the first left-wing president since Francois Mitterrand, sparked amusement in London when it emerged a Shakespeare quote he used in his Sunday rally - ''They failed because they did not start with a dream'' - came not from the playwright William Shakespeare but from a book, The Vision of Elena Silves, by the novelist Nicholas Shakespeare.

Mr Hollande's campaign will not welcome the news the words were uttered by the novel's hero, Gabriel, a Maoist revolutionary who ends up a terrorist for the murderous Peruvian guerilla group, Shining Path.

Guardian News & Media; Telegraph, London

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