Chirac announces new prime minister

PARIS -- Jean-Pierre Raffarin, an affable but little-known conservative senator, was named France's prime minister on Monday, a day after President Jacques Chirac won re-election by an overwhelming margin.

Raffarin, 53, is expected to name a new Cabinet this week, possibly as early as Tuesday, and begin working on Chirac's promise to crack down on rising crime and respond to the nation's discontent.

Chirac trounced ultra-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in Sunday's presidential race, winning a record 82 percent of the vote.

The stakes are high for Raffarin. Left-leaning parties are eager to stage a comeback after Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin suffered an embarrassing loss to Le Pen in the first round of voting.

Raffarin's appointment was announced by Dominique de Villepin, one of Chirac's top aides, on national television. It came soon after Jospin turned in his resignation as expected. The ministers remain in place until successors are appointed to ensure a smooth transition.

Jospin left the Hotel Matignon, the official residence of prime ministers, after handing the reins to Raffarin. The two men walked together down a red carpet, and Jospin was applauded by supporters and staff as he drove off.

Raffarin's Cabinet is expected to serve at least until next month's elections.

Recruited from the small, center-right Liberal Democracy party, Raffarin is a former marketing executive who favors free trade, putting him at odds with many leftist rivals.

The 69-year-old president is determined not to relive the uncomfortable experience that he had sharing power with Jospin since 1997, which some political analysts say contributed to the rise of Le Pen.

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