Source AP ©

Sarkozy meets with expected new prime minister

President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday named reform-minded conservative Francois Fillon as France's new prime minister, and he will form the new government - possibly as early as Friday.

Fillon, 53, is an efficient four-time minister with a lower profile than the president, who took office Wednesday.

Sarkozy had a working breakfast with Fillon before the presidential office confirmed his appointment as prime minister. Outgoing Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was to formally turn over power to Fillon at 11 a.m. (0900 GMT).

The rest of the government was expected to be named rapidly, likely Friday, so the new team can set about implementing Sarkozy's promises of change and reform to rev-up the sluggish French economy.

The streamlined government is to be made up of 15 ministers, half of them women and at least one from the left to signal the willingness of Sarkozy, accused of divisiveness by rivals, to include figures from outside his political camp.

Fillon, a member of Sarkozy's governing Union for a Popular Movement party, has been Sarkozy's near constant companion in recent weeks and was widely considered a shoo-in for prime minister. He is credited with pushing through tricky retirement reforms as social affairs minister from 2002 to 2004. He served as education minister from 2004 to 2005.

Socialist Bernard Kouchner, an eminent figure of the left and co-founder of Doctors Without Borders, has been tapped for the post of foreign minister but there has been no official word as to whether he has accepted the job.

Sarkozy replaced Jacques Chirac on Wednesday with a vow to pull France out of economic stagnation, lower social tensions and inspire new confidence in his compatriots.

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