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Francois Hollande takes over as president of France

Pomp, meetings central to big day of Socialist leader

REGIS DUVIGNAU/POOL

Francois Hollande acknowledged supporters after he was inaugurated Tuesday in Paris.

PARIS — In a dignified ceremony in a red and gold hall in the Elysee Palace, Francois Hollande, 57, was inaugurated Tuesday as president of France, the first Socialist to hold the office since Francois Mitterrand. Later, after naming Jean-Marc Ayrault, 62, as his prime minister, Hollande boarded a state aircraft bound for Berlin for his first official meeting with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

Hollande’s plane was hit by lightning in flight and had to return to Paris, but Hollande, unhurt, took off again for Berlin in a different plane, the French Defense Ministry said.

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“We are a single France, undivided,’’ Hollande said after his investiture, promising a presidency of “dignity, simplicity, and soberness.’’ He vowed that “the state will be impartial, because it belongs to all of its citizens,’’ and insisted that a united France could meet its difficult social and economic challenges. He promised justice and warned: “We cannot have sacrifices on one side and privilege on the other.’’

He said he wanted “to open a new path for Europe,’’ based on growth and fiscal discipline.

Hollande, the seventh president of the Fifth Republic, was accompanied by his partner, Valerie Trierweiler; they are the first unmarried couple to represent France.

Hollande entered the Elysee and was met by Nicolas Sarkozy, the first incumbent president to be defeated for reelection since 1981. The two men shook hands and disappeared inside for a meeting in which, it is said, Sarkozy handed over France’s nuclear codes to his successor.

Afterward, the two were joined by Trierweiler and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Then Sarkozy and his wife left the Elysee as some of Sarkozy’s supporters shed tears and as Hollande took charge of a country that elected him by a thin margin May 6.

In his speech, he praised his predecessors for particular accomplishments. Of Sarkozy, he simply said, “I express my good wishes for the new life that is opening before him.’’

Hollande laid a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe, then met over a luncheon of langoustine and beef with members of his Socialist Party, including four former prime ministers. Next was a visit to the Tuileries to pay homage to Jules Ferry, a defender of colonialism best known for instituting compulsory free education in France - a gesture signaling Hollande’s stated priorities of education and a better opportunity for youth, with youth unemployment in France at about 25 percent. He also paid homage to Marie Curie, a nod to the gender equality that Hollande says he will seek in his first Cabinet, which should be announced Wednesday.

Hollande’s choice of Ayrault - a fluent German-speaker who is mayor of Nantes and the leader of the Socialist deputies in the French National Assembly - was no surprise. Ayrault is regarded as an emollient figure in the party, a centrist and a safe pair of hands, with good ties to the Legislature. Martine Aubry, the head of the Socialist Party whose views are further left, was considered a more ideological possibility. But Hollande and Aubry, who originally supported Dominique Strauss-Kahn for the Socialist candidacy and then ran against Hollande, have a rivalrous relationship. She is expected to receive another post in the government that is prestigious but less central.

In the speech he gave at his investiture, Hollande spoke in sober terms.

“I take stock today of the force of the pressures our country is under: massive debt, feeble growth, high unemployment, damaged competitiveness, a Europe that is struggling to get out of the crisis,’’ he said. “But nothing is inevitable as long as we are driven by a common will, as long as a clear course has been set, and we apply all our strength and the assets of France.’’

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