"I shall do so with pride in duty accomplished and also with great faith in the future of our country.

  

"This evening I want to tell you what a great honour it has been to serve you. I want to tell you how strong is the bond that from the depths of my heart unites me with every man and woman among you."

  

After the hand-over, the newly installed president will be taken to the Arc de Triomphe to rekindle the flame on the tomb of the unknown soldier, in accordance with tradition.

  

Sarkozy will then leave on his first official task as president, flying to Berlin for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, before returning to Paris late on Wednesday night.

 

Radical change

 

The 52-year-old former interior minister was elected president on May 6, easily beating Segolene Royal, the socialist candidate, on a promise of radical economic and social change.

 

He has vowed to act fast in office, calling a special session of the National Assembly in July to pass a first wave of reforms - including tax cuts, trade union reforms, new controls on immigration and tougher sentencing rules for serial offenders.

  

His first task is to appoint a caretaker government to lead the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) into parliamentary elections on June 10 and 17.

  

On Thursday, Sarkozy is expected to name Francois Fillon, 53, the former social affairs minister as prime minister.

 

Fillon is seen as a calm and competent operator who successfully negotiated reforms to the pensions system in 2003.

  

Ministerial tips

 

With the full cabinet expected to be announced Thursday or Friday, several tips for ministerial posts are circulating in the Paris rumour-mill.

  

On Monday aides to Sarkozy said that Bernard Kouchner - a socialist ex-minister who founded the charity Doctors Without Borders - was likely to accept the post of foreign minister.

  

This would be a major coup for Sarkozy, who is seeking to broaden the political base of his government.

  

The new president has promised a reduced cabinet of 15 members, with seven or eight women - the first time France would have gender parity in government.

 

On leaving the Elysee, Chirac and his wife Bernadette will be taken to their new temporary home in an apartment on the river Seine overlooking the Louvre museum.

  

The flat has been loaned by the family of the murdered Lebanese politician Rafiq Hariri, who was a close friend of the Chiracs. They are expected to stay there until they find a place of their own in Paris.

 

Unlike in the US there is no swearing-in ceremony, and presidential authority is simply passed on from incumbent to successor.