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Sarkozy shines after France attacks, but voters appear unswayed

President Sarkozy got credit for deft handling of the deadly attacks on a Jewish school and French soldiers. But polls indicate the public has other concerns ahead of April elections.

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy delivers a speech to magistrates and policemen who took part in the investigations in the shooting of seven persons and the siege of the gunman Mohamed Merah in Toulouse, at the Elysee palace in Paris, Tuesday.

Kenzo Tribouillard/AP

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A killing spree in France that brought presidential election campaigning to a halt and dominated media for days appears to have had little impact on how people will vote, defying predictions that President Nicolas Sarkozy would benefit appreciably.

The events – a killer who shot three paratroopers, three Jewish children, and a rabbi in mid-March, a month before the first round of elections – has been the kind of crisis where Mr. Sarkozy shines. It underscored his increasing focus on security and crime: The killer, Mohammed Merah, who claimed Al Qaeda connections, was quickly discovered, and died in a standoff with police last week in Toulouse.

Yet Mr. Sarkozy, who has looked and sounded presidential while attending the recent funeral of paratroopers, and speaking of the need to unify the nation, slid 0.5 percent, from 28.5 percent to 28 percent, in polls this week by the French Institute of Public Opinion (Ifop). Moreover, French public fears of a major terrorist attack have actually fallen since the brutal events in Toulouse, a different Ifop poll shows.

“This shooting in itself is not going to give rise to any swing vote at all,” says Arun Kapil, political scientist at Catholic University in Paris. “It was one guy, a psycho, and maybe his brother. … France didn’t get hysterical. In the US, it may have had a different outcome. But if you look at all the data, what the French say again and again they want are jobs, purchasing power, and better schools.”

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