Source AP ©

Sarkozy meets Chirac and Hariri

Both Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy led the ceremony honoring victims of slavery in their first meeting since Sarkozy’s victory in Presidential race.

The two were also to host the son of assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in the presidential palace Thursday afternoon. France's relations with the Arab world are expected to cool with the departure of Chirac, a close friend of Hariri and supporter of France's former protectorate Lebanon.

Anti-Sarkozy protests continued, though a tide of post-election unrest that left more than 1,200 cars burned around the country earlier this week appeared to be ebbing.

About 150 student protesters occupied a branch of the University of Paris in the south of the capital on Thursday, said university officials, who decided to temporarily shut down the premises.

On Wednesday night, hundreds of far-left protesters marched through Paris' Latin Quarter. Riot police detained dozens of people while enforcing a buffer zone between those protesters and far-right activists holding a commemoration nearby, officials said.

Sarkozy's abrasive language, tough line on crime and immigration, and proposals to weaken labor protections have angered many on the left and in rundown housing projects that erupted in riots in 2005. Despite his solid victory over Socialist Segolene Royal, many predict his reform plans will be challenged by street protests and other resistance.

After a brief postelection vacation, Sarkozy huddled Thursday with lawmakers from his conservative party to plan for next month's legislative elections that are crucial to those reforms.

The party currently has a large majority in both houses of parliament but must keep it that way if Sarkozy wants to follow through quickly on ambitious plans to cut taxes, reform labor laws and minimize the effect of France's frequent strikes.

Sarkozy then joined Chirac for a poignant ceremony in Paris' Luxembourg Gardens, where Chirac unveiled a chain-like sculpture in honor of victims of slavery, 159 years after France abolished the practice. Chirac announced the national commemoration day last year, soon after the 2005 riots, which raised questions about France's model of integrating minorities and the lingering scars of its colonial past.

Sarkozy takes over May 16 from Chirac, who is leaving after 12 years in office.

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