Sarkozy seeks to give French confidence a boost

Other News Materials 29 November 2007 19:03 (UTC +04:00)

( Reuters ) - President Nicolas Sarkozy promised on Thursday to speed up reforms to try to rebuild French confidence dented by weeks of strikes.

He also vowed to take a tough line on rioters who clashed with police in a Paris suburb this week.

Judges and courtroom officials became the latest group on Thursday to go on strike, adding to a list that includes transport and electricity workers, civil servants and students.

The unrest combined with a feeling that the cost of living is being driven up by high oil, food and lodging prices, has helped send household confidence to the lowest level in over a year and has hurt Sarkozy's popularity, a new poll showed.

But Sarkozy, a law and order hardliner who was elected in May on a pledge to push through difficult changes, said France would not solve its problems by shying away from reform.

"I did these reforms quickly because it was urgent. People sometimes criticize their speed. In fact, I would like to go much more quickly ... in order to boost growth as quickly as possible," Sarkozy said in a speech to police officers.

"I know perfectly well that these reforms will not come without effort and tension," he added.

His comments came as thousands of judges, judicial employees and lawyers dressed in their court robes went on strike over a plan to close some courts to simplify the system and save money.

Some student unions also called for protests on Thursday demanding an end to a law giving universities more independence. Twenty-seven university sites were blocked on Thursday, a drop of 22 since Tuesday, the UNEF union said.

Energy unions have called for another one-day strike on December 6, a follow-up to strikes held jointly with transport workers in November and October over pension reforms.

"Nicolas Sarkozy is playing a high stakes game ... because all these delayed bombs of French society are exploding in his face. The suburbs, pensions, students, quality of life. And in a more general way, the attitude of a country facing its future," Le Figaro said in an editorial.

A TNS-Sofres poll for Le Figaro magazine said his popularity had dropped four points to 49 percent over the last month, the first time it has fallen below 50 percent since he was elected.