French would-be president Hollande slams world of finance in key speech

SOCIALIST challenger Francois Hollande, front-runner in the race to unseat French President Nicolas Sarkozy, declared war on the world of finance yesterday in a speech to 25,000 supporters, three months before the presidential election.

The address, attended by Socialist Party top-brass and some showbiz celebrities, was more an exercise in presidential style than substance.

Without announcing any new election proposals, the man who hopes to unseat Sarkozy on 6 May did not mention his conservative rival by name during a 90-minute speech designed to burnish his image as a head of state in waiting, and confirm to any doubters that he is an unrepentant left-winger.

“In the battle ahead, my main adversary has no name, no face and no party. He will never run as a candidate. He will never be elected, but he rules in spite of all that. My adversary is the world of finance,” Hollande said to a standing ovation in a packed conference hall on the northern outskirts of Paris.

Stock options would be banned, big bonus payouts strictly limited and laws introduced to separate traditional retail bank business from risky investment banking if voters made Hollande the first Socialist president in 17 years, since the late Francois Mitterrand.

Hollande, a mainstream social democrat who is under pressure from within his own camp to adopt a tougher tone, was addressing the first of a dozen big political rallies being organised on the way into an ballot that takes place in two rounds, with an opening vote on 22 April and the runoff on 6 May.