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HONEYMOON OVER, SARKOZY REFOCUSES

French leader tries to counter sinking polls.

Now that Carla Bruni is his bride, Nicolas Sarkozy is focusing again on running France: endorsing a showcase superfast train, promising to rescue steel workers threatened with layoffs and negotiating with labor leaders.

Sinking poll ratings and France's limp economy suggest the president needed to return to his energetic governing ways after weeks in which the couple's courtship dominated headlines.

Sarkozy and Bruni, a former model and singer, wed on Saturday, ending swirling speculation about where and when they would tie the knot.

The head of France's esteemed Constitutional Council, Jean-Louis Debre, upbraided Sarkozy for not maintaining "a certain reserve" about his love life. Ex-Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Sarkozy's presidency "has lost its concentration on the essential things, that is to say, serving France and serving the French."

While some people lapped up images of the couple bathing in Egypt and arm-in-arm at Disneyland Paris, others were less enthusiastic.

A poll released Tuesday showed 46 percent of respondents with a positive opinion of Sarkozy, down 7 points from a month ago. The Ifop poll was conducted Jan. 31 to Feb. 1 by telephone among 1,005 people. No margin of error was given.

His diminishing support could have broader consequences: The country holds municipal elections next month that are seen as a political test for Sarkozy. Members of his conservative UMP Party fear their candidates could be punished by voters disappointed in Sarkozy.

This week, Sarkozy appeared determined to show he is still in charge.

He took on angry steel workers in northeast France slated to lose their jobs under a restructuring plan by factory owner ArcelorMittal. He's also meeting with workers and management at tire giant Michelin, where hundreds of layoffs are on the horizon.

Today, he dives back into the reforms that he pledged would revive the French economy and inspire the French to work more and rely less on state help. He meets labor leaders to lay out a time line for reforming pensions, health care and family welfare.

In the interim, he jetted to Romania, too.

Opposition Socialists are unimpressed. Their head in the lower house of Parliament, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said Sarkozy "is improvising and searching for lost popularity."

Sarkozy doesn't seem too concerned. He couldn't help but throw in a reference to his Italian-born bride Bruni at the unveiling Tuesday of a prototype for a new generation high-speed train. Noting that Italy's NTV has bought 25 of the new trains, Sarkozy joked, "It's beautiful, Italy, eh?"

FAST FACTS

Airline pays for using photo

A French judge on Tuesday ruled that budget airline Ryanair improperly used a picture of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his new wife, ex-supermodel Carla Bruni, in an advertisement, and ordered the carrier to pay the newlyweds about $88,200 in damages.

The case came early last week when Sarkozy and Bruni, then unmarried, sued the airline for placing an advertisement in a French newspaper featuring their picture with a thought bubble above Bruni's head stating: "With Ryanair, all my family can come to my wedding."

Sarkozy, 53, sought and received a symbolic 1 euro - about $1.47 - in damages. Bruni, 40, asked for $735,000 in damages - the amount she said she received for appearing in advertisements - and was awarded 60,000 euros, or $88,200.

Washington Post

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