Sarkozy caught calling journo 'dummy'
Paris - French President Nicolas Sarkozy was caught on camera calling a journalist a "dummy" during an official visit on Thursday, in an outburst his Socialist election rival Francois Hollande condemned as vulgar and undignified.
Sarkozy has earned a reputation for blunt speaking during his five-year presidency. In the run-up to April's first round presidential vote, he appears to have been at pains to shed that image.
But during a visit to Chalons-sur-Marne, east of Paris, he appeared to lose patience with a young journalist when questioned about clashes between police and striking steel workers in the capital on Thursday.
"Do you think I give a damn about what you say? What do you expect me to say?" he says, adding: "What a dummy!"
He then turned back smiling to the journalist and slapped him on the shoulder, apologising for the comment and saying: "He's nice really. He's young."
Socialist candidate Francois Hollande blasted Sarkozy in the wake of the incident accusing him of slipping back into the "excesses" and "vulgarity" that had marked his five-year term.
"Do you think that's the best way to conduct a dignified public debate?" he said on France 2 television.
Some 150 workers from the ArcelorMittal steel mill at Floranges in eastern France gathered outside Sarkozy's campaign headquarters in Paris earlier in the day to protest at the threatened closure of the plant and push for a solution.
The protest turned violent as workers tried to break through a police line, prompting riot police to fire tear gas to put an end to the demonstration.
Sarkozy's comments came only hours after he had himself criticised his rival Hollande for losing his temper, referring to the Socialist candidate's heated campaign speech in Marseilles a day earlier.
"There's no need to get angry, tense up, to be nasty or aggressive," he told journalists on the sidelines of an earlier visit to a metal factory.
Sarkozy has been dogged by a reputation for inflammatory language since he captured the headlines during his 2007 presidential campaign with a call to rid the Paris suburbs of young "scum".
In 2008 he was caught on camera telling a man at an agricultural fair to "get lost, jerk", a phrase that would haunt him throughout his presidency.
That, combined with his whirlwind romance with model-turned-singer Carla Bruni and his friendships with wealthy businessmen, alienated many voters.
Sarkozy has consistently trailed Hollande in polls of voting intentions, but overtook his arch-rival in the first-round vote in an IFOP poll this week. Second-round polls still show Hollande as the outright winner.
The latest daily rolling poll of voting intentions by IFOP for magazine Paris Match, showed Sarkozy taking 28% of the vote in the first round on April 22, against 26.5% for Hollande. Hollande would still win in a second-round runoff, with 53.5% against 46.5% for Sarkozy.