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France's Hollande attacks rival Sarkozy over economy

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 1:48 PM EST, Tue January 3, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Francois Hollande is the Socialist Party's chosen presidential candidate
  • He is seen as Nicolas Sarkozy's chief rival as the president seeks a second term
  • Hollande says the French people are suffering because of the economic crisis
  • The first round of the presidential vote will be April 22, with a second round due May 6

Paris (CNN) -- French presidential candidate Francois Hollande opened the new year with a shot across the bow of rival President Nicolas Sarkozy Tuesday.

In an open letter published in French newspaper Liberation, Hollande accuses Sarkozy -- who is seeking re-election this spring -- of failing to do enough to help his people during his term in office.

"The French suffer. They suffer in their daily lives. Unemployment is at its highest because growth is at its lowest," writes Hollande, who is widely regarded as Sarkozy's chief rival.

"The economic depression is here, social anxiety is everywhere, and confidence is at its lowest ebb. I am re-affirming where the responsibilities lie. Certainly, since 2008, there is a crisis."

The 57-year-old Socialist Party candidate devotes much of his letter to criticism on the president's handling of the economic downturn afflicting France and its European neighbors, but also sets out his own vision for the future.

Hollande's remarks come ahead of Sarkozy's planned trip to Berlin next Monday for further meetings with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The pair have met repeatedly in recent months as they seek to stabilize the 17-nation, single-currency eurozone to which both France and Germany belong.

It is time for a new leader, Hollande argues. "Allow the change, a true change. This is not the place to analyze what might have been in the past five-year term. Said simply, the past five years have been a presidency of the speech and him, the privileged president."

Hollande, who was picked as his party's candidate in primaries in October, was responding to a New Year's message from the French president in which he called for a united France to weather the economic storm.

The French go to the polls later this year, with the first round of the presidential elections scheduled for April 22 and the second round for May 6.

Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has also said he will run for president. He heads his own center-right party, Republique Solidaire.

CNN's Alex Felton contributed to this report.

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