Scandal-bound Sarkozy to address nation today

PARIS, (Reuters) – French President Nicolas Sarkozy  will try to quell a political donations scandal today after  losing a safe parliamentary seat in a sign of public anger over  allegations of cash handouts to conservative politicians.

An official investigation cleared a key minister yesterday  of abusing his position to shield France’s richest woman from a  tax audit, but critics said the report did not erase suspicions  of a conflict of interest.

Sarkozy will give a rare summer television interview a day  before embattled Labour Minister Eric Woerth presents to the  cabinet a pension reform, which is unpopular with voters and  unions.

The furore over alleged cash handouts by France’s richest  woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, and her late  husband, to conservative politicians has shaken the president  and helped drive his approval rating to a record low.

The ruling UMP party lost a by-election on Sunday in what  opposition Socialist leader Martine Aubry called “a very clear  snub to the president and the government, and a strong rejection  of the climate created by these revelations and scandals”.

Green candidate Anny Poursinoff, backed by the Socialists,  beat the UMP incumbent in the Rambouillet constituency southwest  of Paris by 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent on a low 26.8 percent  turnout. The conservatives retain a comfortable majority in the  lower house of parliament.

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