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De Villepin named new French Prime Minister

De Villepin named new French Prime Minister


PARIS, May 31 – President Jacques Chirac appointed Dominique de Villepin, a loyalist who was France’s voice against the Iraq war, as Prime Minister Tuesday to head a new government in response to a humiliating referendum defeat.

Villepin, 51, moves from the Interior Ministry to replace Jean-Pierre Raffarin, dumped after voters on Sunday roundly rejected Chirac’s call for the ratification of a European Union constitution. {{more}}

Chirac charged Villepin with the task of forming a new government. Villepin arrived at the presidential Elysee Palace just minutes after Chirac bid farewell to Raffarin with a handshake on the palace steps.

Villepin, a former Foreign Minister, is best known for his eloquent defence of the French stance against a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Villepin is a long-standing Chirac loyalist and was once his top counselor. However, he is an unpopular choice among lawmakers opposed to a Prime Minister who has never held elected office.

The silver-haired Villepin takes over at a difficult time: Unemployment is running at 10 percent and the French political establisment is reeling from Sunday’s referendum that marked a stinging humiliation for Chirac. (AP)