Sarkozy son ousts presidential spokesman

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was embroiled in new intrigue Monday after his son forced out the top Elysee spokesman, David Martinon, as candidate for mayor in the Sarkozy political stronghold.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy was embroiled in new intrigue Monday after his son forced out the top Elysee spokesman as candidate for mayor in the Sarkozy political stronghold.

The president's spokesman David Martinon, 36, officially threw in the towel  in the election battle on Monday. He said he offered his resignation to Sarkozy, who refused it.

Martinon was personally chosen by Sarkozy to head up the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) list in Neuilly-sur-Seine, the wealthy Paris suburb where Sarkozy was mayor from 1983 to 2002 and the heartland of the French right.

The president sent his second son Jean, a 21-year-old scooter riding student, to work on Martinon's campaign.

But Jean Sarkozy and two local UMP allies announced Sunday they were setting up a rival campaign to Martinon, after a secret poll showed him losing the town.

"The conditions were no longer in place for me to lead the campaign for the municipal elections," Martinon said Monday.

France's richest town, where the 53-year-old president grew up and forged his political career, Neuilly -- nicknamed "Sarkoland" -- gave 86 percent of its votes to Sarkozy in last year's presidential race.

"What is going on? Is Sarkozy losing his touch?" wrote the left-wing Liberation, saying the "prince" had failed to impose his candidate in "the heart of the kingdowm... the town the UMP could not lose."

"There is a fire in the house of Sarkozy, including in the main room -- that good old fief of Neuilly-sur-Seine," wrote Le Parisien newspaper.

The Neuilly fiasco brought fresh embrassment for the president, battling a severe slump in the polls and unwelcome revelations about his private life as the countdown begins to the March municipal elections.

Many right-wing deputies fear the president's slump in popularity will cost them their second jobs as mayors or local councillors in the March vote.

UMP head Patrick Devedjian, acknowledged the need to clear up the "confusion" in Neuilly.

Asked whether the tall, blonde Jean Sarkozy would run for the post of mayor, Devedjian replied that he "a lot of talent, he has certainly inherited his father's poltiical qualities, he is very pleasant, he does a good job."

Martinon was "parachuted" in by the the UMP leadership and the move from above went down badly in the town of 60,000.

"Out in the field, he's no good. He blushes, he mumbles, he even seems afraid. Obviously communication is not his strong point," Le Parisien newspaper quoted a local novelist, named as Yves, as saying.

"He has a bad image. And with Jean Sarkozy as his support, it feels like living in a Banana Republic."

Le Parisien suggested Sarkozy had called a last-minute prime time televised speech on the adoption of the European Union's new reform treaty on Sunday night to limit coverage of the fiasco.

The president was out of the country Monday Monday on a two-day trip to French Guiana.

Sarkozy has plunged to a low of 41 percent in the polls, a tumble blamed on overexposure of his romance with France's new first lady Carla Bruni, jarring with the darkening mood of ordinary French people concerned about the economy.

The saga over his private life took a new twist last week when Sarkozy took legal action against a magazine website that alleged he text-messaged his ex-wife offering to call off his wedding to Bruni if she came back.

Sarkozy remarried less than four months after ending his stormy 11-year marriage to Cecilia, 50, with whom he has a young son, Louis. The couple announced their divorce on October 18.

The editor of the website, run by the left-leaning weekly Nouvel Observateur, has insisted he stands by the story.

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