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France

‘Extras’ bussed in for Sarkozy publicity stunt

Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2012-02-03

French President Nicolas Sarkozy made a visit to a social housing building site Thursday to highlight his work on this key election issue - but according to builders at the site, many of the ‘workers’ Sarkozy met on the tour had been bussed in.

Bemused builders on Friday accused President Nicolas Sarkozy’s aides of bussing in fake ‘workers’ to make the embattled French leader look more popular during a visit to a social housing project, according to Europe 1 radio.

The building site, in the Essone administrative region southwest of Paris, is being developed into 130 affordable homes and illustrates a key issue in the run up to the May’s presidential election: the soaring cost of housing in the capital and surrounding area.

And Sarkozy certainly got plenty of attention.

“They wanted the president to be surrounded by as many people as possible,” said one manager, who added that the president’s aides had asked his bosses to double the number of workers present on the day from the usual 60 to 120.

One builder told Europe 1 he suspected that managers of other building firms from across the region had been cajoled into sending their employees along.

'Look busy'

“I recognised people from other sites,” he said, while a colleague added that suppliers, partners, site managers as well as complete strangers seemed to be milling around.
Everyone was told to “look busy”, they said, despite the freezing temperatures that would normally have stopped work.

When pressed by Europe 1, a spokesman for the Elysée Palace did not deny that there had been a supplementary contingent at the site during Thursday’s visit.

However, the spokesman argued that this was to give “everyone who has worked on this site, or might potentially work there in the future, the chance to come along.”

Bizarrely, construction firm 3F said in a statement on Friday that it “categorically denied” that any extras had been drafted in for the presidential visit, insisting that “the regular workforce of 67 was there as well as management staff of other companies involved in the project.”

Sarkozy, who is lagging behind Socialist rival Francois Hollande in the polls, has yet to announce his candidacy for May’s presidential election.

Staying on-message, he told the assembled “workers”, all wearing heavy-duty overalls and hard hats, that “France has no choice but to make housing more affordable for ordinary people.”

But when somebody butted in with the question “so are you going to be a candidate or not?” Sarkozy replied, “Is this on camera or isn't it? I think you get what I mean.”

Date created : 2012-02-03

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