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Sarkozy aims to kickstart growth

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has announced a 430 million euro (£360 million) plan to drive down unemployment and restart growth.

But the move was criticised as an attempt to boost his popularity three months before France's presidential election.

With unemployment pushing 10% and the recent downgrade of France's credit rating by Standard & Poor's, Socialist candidate Francois Hollande is hitting the president hard, saying the financial crisis reflects Mr Sarkozy's failed economic stewardship.

Mr Sarkozy, who is trailing Mr Hollande in polls, has countered that the crisis is Europe-wide and that French people who are suffering need help now. To that end, he met business and labour leaders to formulate a plan to create more jobs and ease the pressure on those looking for work.

It is unclear whether Mr Sarkozy's government can put the jobs plan in place before the presidential elections, held in two rounds in April and May.

"The current economic situation in France as in Europe is very perilous. It's urgent," Mr Sarkozy said in the opening remarks of the closed-door session, according to a transcript made public by his office.

In a clear rebuttal to his critics, Mr Sarkozy said after the meeting: "Regardless of the political calendar, the crisis, unemployment, the suffering of our compatriots don't give any of us the right to stay immobilised, inactive."

The measures include increasing aid to those forced to take unpaid leave, training for the unemployed and incentives to hire young people. He also suggested creating a state-funded body to invest in industry.

But he gave little detail on his main plan to increase France's competitivity and spur hiring: reducing the amount companies contribute to the social benefits system, and raising the sales tax to make up for the shortfall.

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