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Sarkozy names women to half of Cabinet posts

French council trimmed to 15

Prime Minister François Fillon (from left), President Nicolas Sarkozy, Justice Minister Rachida Dati, and Housing Minister Christine Boutin stood in front of the Elysée Palace in Paris. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)

PARIS -- President Nicolas Sarkozy of France named women to nearly half of his Cabinet positions yesterday and designated the founder of Doctors Without Borders, a Socialist, as his foreign minister.

The appointments reflect Sarkozy's pledge to diversify the top echelons of the French government with greater numbers of women and representatives from opposition political parties. More than half of the Cabinet members are familiar political faces who had served as ministers in President Jacques Chirac's government.

The 15-member Cabinet is half the size of previous governments, part of Sarkozy's efforts to streamline the bloated French bureaucracy.

The new Cabinet held its first meeting within hours of being named, in keeping with the image that Sarkozy plans to bring more dynamism to a government that had become sluggish and unresponsive to the public.

Minutes after naming his close friend and political colleague François Fillon as prime minister on Thursday, the two men went jogging, with bodyguards following closely, in the sprawling Bois de Boulogne park.

The most controversial of Sarkozy's appointments is Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, 67, a popular politician and the founder of Doctors Without Borders, the nonprofit organization that received a Nobel prize and pioneered sending medical workers into the most dangerous and destitute reaches of the globe.

Members of Kouchner's Socialist Party branded him a traitor for taking a ministerial position under Sarkozy, who beat Socialist Ségolène Royal for the presidency.

Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon said the party will expel Kouchner. "He joined a government of the right, the government that we are fighting," Hamon said. "There's nothing more for him inside our party."

Sarkozy named as defense minister Herve Morin, a centrist who was a key adviser to failed presidential candidate François Bayrou.

Michèle Alliot-Marie, Chirac's defense minister, was made interior minister in charge of security and counter terrorism.

Rachida Dati, a 41-year-old lawyer whose parents immigrated to France from Morocco and Algeria, will serve as justice minister. Women were also chosen as ministers of education, culture, health and sports, and agriculture.

Sarkozy enlisted one of his closest political friends, Brice Hortefeux, to take over a new ministry of immigration, integration, and national identity.

When Sarkozy announced his plans to create the position, opponents and fellow party members criticized a ministry of national identity as too evocative of France's experiences with the Vichy government, which did the bidding of the Nazis in deporting Jews during World War II.

Alain Juppé, a former prime minister, became the head of a new ministry of environment, sustainable development, transportation, and energy.

The appointment of Dati, a woman with North African roots, as justice minister offered the symbolism that the law will be colorblind in a nation coping with the fallout from riots across immigrant-heavy neighborhoods two years ago.

During the campaign, Sarkozy, who is of Hungarian immigrant background, promised gender balance in the Cabinet after decades where women often played secondary roles or were outnumbered by men.

Women here did not get the vote until 1944, and 14 percent of the national legislature is female. But France now has one of the highest numbers of female ministers of any country in Europe.

"The message: if you're a woman, or have North African origins, or come from a disfavored position in society, you can still make it in France," said political analyst Dominique Moisi.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.