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France's Hollande gives Sarkozy terse sendoff
PARIS (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande gave his predecessor a terse send-off on Tuesday, omitting to wave Nicolas Sarkozy off from the steps of the Elysee palace and giving him only a cursory mention in his inaugural speech.
After a bruising election battle, Sarkozy was gracious in defeat, dropping all invective when he conceded within minutes of the May 6 result and inviting Hollande to accompany him at a ceremony two days later to commemorate the end of World War Two.
Yet the Socialist newcomer kept it to the bare minimum when he saw the outgoing conservative off with a brisk handshake after a 40-minute private meeting to pass on state secrets.
In a remark that seemed squarely aimed at Sarkozy's pushy and hyperactive style, Hollande said in his maiden address that he would run a "dignified" and "sober" presidency.
In past handovers, the incoming president has lingered over the handshake with his predecessor and taken a few moments to see him off from the Elysee Palace courtyard.
Back in 2007, the more tactile Sarkozy gave his predecessor Jacques Chirac a friendly departing pat and applauded as he left the premises. When Chirac won in 1995, he gave Socialist Francois Mitterrand a warm send-off that expressed admiration for a skillful veteran adversary.
In his speech, Hollande, the first Socialist leader in 17 years, listed the achievements of all other Fifth Republic presidents from General Charles de Gaulle to Chirac. But his only mention of the Sarkozy was to wish him luck in the future.
A television commentator called the perfunctory comment "the union minimum".
During the campaign, Hollande mostly bit his tongue as Sarkozy repeatedly sniped at him, calling the challenger "useless" and saying he lied "from morning to night".
But he betrayed simmering anger when he described Sarkozy in an off-record chat with journalists as a "nasty piece of work".
Their mutual dislike was clear in a televised debate three days before the crucial runoff, in which Hollande mocked Sarkozy for having no other defense than to call him a liar.
On Tuesday, Hollande seemed to play on criticism of Sarkozy as all-controlling and impulsive when he told guests at the handover ceremony that he would run a different presidency.
"I will set the priorities but I will not decide for everyone, on everything and everywhere," the new president said.
Hollande turned his back and went indoors for the inaugural ceremony without waiting for Sarkozy and former first lady Carla Bruni, dressed in a plain black trouser suit and flat pumps, to walk down a long red carpet to their car, applauded by staff of the presidential office and cheering young supporters outside.
Hollande's unmarried partner, Valerie Trierweiler, looking chic in a white mid-thigh jacket worn with an elegant black dress and high heels, outdressed the former supermodel Bruni and ensured the incoming presidential couple stole the show on glamour.
A stormy day in Paris forced the new president to change suit twice after being drenched to the skin in downpours when he rode in an open-topped car up the Champs Elysees avenue, and when he laid a wreath at a memorial to scientist Marie Curie.
Capping a bumpy start, Hollande's plane was hit by lightning after he took off for Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He was forced to turn back, land and take off again in a different aircraft.
(Reporting By Catherine Bremer; Editing by Paul Taylor)
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