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Sarkozy's overtures to left irk conservative allies

Nicolas Sarkozy haven’t even take office when he faced his first political hurdle, with members of his conservative party angered by his plan to include rival Socialists in a government spanning the left-right divide.

Former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin stepped in Tuesday to try to lower rising temperatures in Sarkozy's UMP party, saying it was important that the new president "share his project with people from other horizons."

Some UMP members who helped Sarkozy win election May 6 have grumbled at overtures in recent days to Socialists, apparently fearing leftists could squeeze UMP loyalists out of prominent posts.

Sarkozy's surprising pre-inaugural meetings with labor unions and some leading Socialists reflect his effort to distance himself from one-time mentor, outgoing President Jacques Chirac, and the economic stagnation and social tensions left over from his 12-year tenure.

The widely popular Bernard Kouchner, a former Socialist health minister and founder of the Nobel-prize winning organization Doctors Without Borders, is among those being considered as new foreign minister.

Aides to Sarkozy have put the accent on competence, not loyalty, and warned that some party faithful were bound to be disappointed.

Patrick Devedjian - who had been tapped as a potential minister in Sarkozy's Cabinet - bristled at the suggestion of Socialists in government, insisting that "loyalty is not necessarily the opposite of competence."

Sarkozy confidant Brice Hortefeux told colleagues Tuesday to cut out the complaining. "Nicolas Sarkozy never promised a post to anyone," Hortefeux said on RTL radio.

With a streamlined government of only 15 ministers, half of whom are likely to be women, there was little room to reward the faithful with ministries.

Sarkozy continued a second day of consultations Tuesday with union representatives and opposition politicians.

Sarkozy, elected with a mandate to rejuvenate France, takes office Wednesday, replacing Chirac, who was to address the nation Tuesday evening with a televised farewell message.

Sarkozy was expected to name his prime minister on Thursday. Former Education Minister Francois Fillon was widely considered a shoo-in. The full government was expected to be announced within days, possibly as early as Thursday.

The Socialist Party, whose candidate Segolene Royal lost to Sarkozy, was among those protesting his reaching out to the left. Former Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou accused Sarkozy of trying to break the left ahead of June legislative elections.

"I think ... those who accept are accomplices of a maneuver aimed purely and simply at smashing the left in the legislative elections," she said on France-Info radio.

The new government will need as large a majority as possible in June legislative elections to easily pass possibly bitter economic and social reforms.