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World leaders reach out to France’s Hollande

PARIS—European and world leaders reached out Monday to president-elect Francois Hollande, France’s first Socialist head of state in 17 years, amid jitters about his pledge to renegotiate Europe’s austerity pact.

President-elect Francois Hollande gestures as he leaves his campaign headquarters in Paris Monday, May 7, 2012. European and world leaders reached out Monday to Hollande, France's first Socialist head of state in 17 years. AP PHOTO/REMY DE LA MAUVINIERE

The euro dropped though stock markets were mixed as the presidential vote in France and Greece’s general election stoked anxiety about the fate of austerity policies designed to end the eurozone’s crippling debt crisis.

While Asian economic giants Japan and China said they were monitoring reaction to Hollande’s win, German Chancellor Angela Merkel wasted no time in contacting the victor, even though she had made no secret of her support for outgoing right-wing leader Nicolas Sarkozy.

Merkel, whose government has ruled out any renegotiation of the EU fiscal pact, nevertheless said she would welcome Hollande “with open arms” when he visits Berlin after he takes office on May 15.

She said they agreed during a telephone call Sunday to work “well and intensively” together, adding: “Franco-German cooperation is essential for Europe and we all want Europe to succeed.”

US President Barack Obama also telephoned Hollande to congratulate him and invite him to the White House this month, after Sarkozy became the latest European leader to be ousted by the eurozone crisis.

Obama “indicated that he looks forward to working closely with Mr. Hollande and his government on a range of shared economic and security challenges,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Russia’s newly inaugurated President Vladimir Putin also vowed to work with Hollande to further strengthen the partnership between the two countries.

“The citizens of France have entrusted you with heading the country in this difficult and rather important period when not only Europe but also the entire global community are facing the pressing tasks of overcoming the consequences of the financial and economic crisis and building new models of cooperation,” he said in a congratulatory message.

Hollande has raised concerns on financial markets with his call for the eurozone to broaden its focus from austerity to incorporate growth, declaring in his victory speech: “Austerity can no longer be the only option.”

But European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso declared that he shared Hollande’s goal of generating durable growth, adding: “We must now transform these aspirations into concrete actions.”

Hollande’s win was “good for Poland, for France and for Europe,” a senior advisor to Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said, describing Hollande as a “very centrist socialist and a resolute European.”

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti voiced hope for close cooperation aimed “at an increasingly efficient and growth-oriented union”.

But Spain’s conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose own spending cuts have sparked street protests in a country suffering recession and a 24-percent jobless rate, was more circumspect.

Rajoy said bluntly he had an “obligation to get along with him and try to work together for the benefit of Spain, France and Europe.”

British conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who had backed Sarkozy at the beginning of the election campaign, also vowed to work with Hollande to boost ties, a spokesman said.

Cameron’s domestic austerity drive is, however, at odds with the incoming French president’s belief in government-driven growth.

In Asia, Chinese President Hu Jintao sent a message of congratulations and Bejing said it was ready to work with France to develop relations “from a strategic and long term perspective.”

Both Japan and China hold huge amounts of euro-denominated debt, while Europe is China’s top export market.

While congratulating Hollande, Japan said it will “carefully monitor” how Europe reacts to his election, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura noting the health of the European economy “greatly affects” the fate of the ailing Asian giant.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Hollande also discussed joint approaches to the EU’s economic woes and the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs in a telephone call, an official in Tokyo said.

Tehran, meanwhile, said it hoped for a “new era” in ties with France, where Sarkozy was one of the most vocal critics of Iran’s nuclear drive, calling for Hollande to “correct past wrong approaches.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said he was keen to establish better relations, which have been dogged by French opposition to Ankara’s efforts to join the EU and a row over legislation on Armenian genocide.

“I hope the attitude of France will be much more positive, much more constructive, this is our expectation,” he said on a visit to Slovenia.

In Damascus, a pro-government newspaper gave a jubilant welcome to the defeat of Sarkozy, whose foreign minister Alain Juppe had raised the prospect of military intervention to end the regime’s bloody crackdown on protests.

“The Sarkozy-Juppe duo in the dustbin of history,” gloated Al-Watan’s front-page headline.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he looked forward to meeting Hollande to “continue this important relationship – important bilaterally and internationally.”

Latin American nations also sent congratulations, led by economic powerhouse Brazil, while other left-leaning leaders including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hailed Hollande’s “clear victory” over Sarkozy.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan urged France under Hollande to “remain a strong supporter of global action to promote democracy, good governance and rapid socio-economic development in Africa.”

The leaders of former French colonies including Tunisia and Ivory Coast also congratulated Hollande.

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