French PM faces the axe

President Jacques Chirac will announce a new government on Tuesday and then make a televised address to the nation.

    The referendum results were a humiliating blow to Chirac

    A replacement for Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has been expected after the rejection of the EU constitution in Sunday's referendum.

    Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin is widely tipped to get the job, though Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and ruling party chief Nicolas Sarkozy have also been mentioned.
    Chirac will unveil on Tuesday decisions concerning his government, AP reported quoting Elysee Palace on Monday.

    An aide to Raffarin said he was expected to present his resignation to Chirac on Monday.
    Earlier on Monday,

    Chirac spent 30 minutes with Raffarin, who has been in office since May 2002.

    Chief contenders

    Other important figures called to the presidential palace included Nicolas Sarkozy, the ambitious head of the governing party, the Union for a Popular Movement, with his eye on the 2007 presidency.

    A chief rival of Chirac, he is among a handful of possible choices to replace Raffarin.

    Ministers holding a regular Monday meeting with Raffarin

    refused to say what had transpired.


    De Villepin is a choice to replace
    Raffarin as prime minister

    Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin - along with Sarkozy and Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie - is considered a top choice to replace Raffarin. He walked out of the prime minister's office with Philippe Douste-Blazy, minister of health, another potential choice.

    The referendum results were a humiliating blow to Chirac and a disavowal of his government, left reeling by the decisive victory of those rejecting the constitution at 55%.

    But the results also threw the EU's future into disarray. P

    lans to bind the 25 EU members more tightly together through a constitution threatened to be set back for years.

    Even the 12-nation euro currency was feeling the effects

    of the referendum. Fears of a "no" victory were largely

    factored into trading last week, when the euro fell to

    seven-month lows against the dollar.



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