French president heckled during campaign stop

Sarkozy forced to take cover from abuse, blames protests on presidential election rival Hollande and Basque activists.

    Riot police had to surround the Bar du Palais where Sarkozy sought refuge, as protesters threw eggs at him [Reuters]

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been heckled by several hundred angry protesters while campaigning in France's southwest.

    Sarkozy had to seek refuge in a bar guarded by riot police during Thursday's stop in Basque country.

    Riot police quickly surrounded the Bar du Palais after Sarkozy ducked in for over an hour to avoid protesters who booed him throughout his visit to Bayonne.

    Some protesters threw eggs at the windows of the bar, Basque separatists threw papers at the president, and others carried posters of rival Socialist candidate Francois Hollande.

    Inside the bar, where he met with residents of Bayonne, Sarkozy denounced "the violence of a minority and their unacceptable behaviour".

    The French president claimed the protesters were organised by the rival Socialist Party.

    "We see meddling with the Basque independent socialist militants to commit violence. To stop what? That I hold a meeting? So what do they want? That Mr Holland campaign on his own? I've already noticed that he can't bear to be contradicted, and now his militants can't even bear for us to campaign," he told local media.

    Sarkozy went on to say "we are in France and the French president will go wherever he wants in the French Republic. And if there is a minority of louts, then they can get lost. In five years I have never bowed down to the pressure of the streets and I will certainly not start now for Basque separatists."

    Sarkozy left the cafe escorted by riot police and protected by an umbrella.

    Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the president's campaign spokesperson, asked Socialists to "respect the rules of democratic debate".

    At a Thursday evening campaign speech, Hollande asked supporters not to become "advocates of vindictiveness" but "actors of hope".

    He did not make direct reference to the afternoon incident in Bayonne, but urged supporters never to resort to physical or verbal abuse.

    The French president's security is scaled down when he is on the campaign trail. Some observers noted it has been particularly sparse at recent events, perhaps in an effort to allow Sarkozy to connect more directly with voters.

    Images broadcast on French television throughout the afternoon on Thursday mostly highlighted the conservative president's supporters.

    Sarkozy trails Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, the front-runner in the two pronged April and May presidential election.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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