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Sarkozy saga distracts from France's reform

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(Sarkozy Monday stopped short of an apology for blasting a member of the farm crowd who said he didn't want to get "dirty" by touching Sarkozy. "Just because you are president doesn't mean you become a doormat," Sarkozy told a forum in Le Parisien. "That said, I would have done better not to reply to him.")

Last spring, Sarkozy's thunderous promise was to create "la rupture" in France – reform the socialist economy, shake the bureaucracy, put the stick about. Now, la rupture itself is in danger of rupturing, with French who voted for him grumbling they don't see much change. One of few dramatic reversals is a successful Jan. 1 ban on smoking in cafes and restaurants – a plan Sarkozy inherited.

Somewhat lost in the Sarkozy saga – which includes a whirlwind courtship and marriage to supermodel Carla Bruni – is how the president has ended France's diplomatic isolation, and his skill in bringing a wide range of figures, even opposition party members, into his cabinet.

But that's not curbing widespread chat in the newly smoke-free cafes.

"I just want him to stop talking for a few weeks, and do something," says Christophe, who lives in the Paris suburb of Neuilly, a traditional Sarkozy stronghold.

"He's talking too fast, and not really thinking enough," says a former Palace adviser. "He threw out ideas on Shoah [Holocaust], a deeply sensitive issue, the same way he would talk about a problem of industry. He's talking about bombs and Iran [in an August speech to French diplomats] too easily."

Some analysts say that low approval ratings can be salutary. Sarkozy's "rupture" was too ambitious, they argue, and French must face this. To do so may force Sarkozy to fight for reform from a more realistic standpoint, they say.

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