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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sarkozy Makes Fillon Premier

PARIS -- France's new reform-minded prime minister, Francois Fillon, started his first day on the job Thursday with a promise to implement President Nicolas Sarkozy's sweeping program of change and ensure an "eminent place" for France in the world.

Fillon was appointed to head a revamped, slimmed-down government -- expected to be named Friday -- to include political rivals and as many women as men.

During a brief ceremony in which outgoing Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin handed over power to Fillon, the new head of government said he would carry forth the mission of Sarkozy, who took office Wednesday.

Fillon, 53, an efficient four-time minister with a lower profile than the president, has been a confidant of Sarkozy.

An hour after Fillon's appointment, Villepin, in office since June 2005, formally turned over power at the ornate, 18th-century Hotel Matignon, which serves as the office of the prime minister.

In brief remarks, Fillon pledged to "assure an eminent place" for France and rally the nation in a "spirit of outreach."

Events moved quickly once Sarkozy took office Wednesday from Jacques Chirac, a fellow conservative ending 12 years as president. Fillon's appointment a day later was to be followed Friday with the naming of a new government, Sarkozy aides said.

Sarkozy has said no time would be wasted in moving forward with his promises of reform to rev up the sluggish French economy.

The streamlined government is to comprise 15 ministers, half of them women and at least one from the left to signal the willingness of Sarkozy, accused of divisiveness by rivals, to include figures from outside his political camp. Fillon has said it will be a "tight and efficient team."

Socialist Bernard Kouchner, a prominent figure of the left and co-founder of Doctors Without Borders, has been tapped for the post of foreign minister, but there has been no official word as to whether he has accepted the job.

Fillon, echoing Sarkozy, promised to defend the heritage and identity of France and keep the nation together while pushing through changes.

"In a world of 6 billion people, the 60 million French people must remain united," he said. "I will respect all of the commitments we made."