May 15, 2012
PARIS – Socialist Francois Hollande took over as France's president Tuesday and jetted off to Berlin hours later for talks on Europe's debt crisis — only to have his plane struck by lightning. No one was hurt.
The Falcon 7X aircraft was hit by lightning shortly after take-off Tuesday, and returned to the Villacoublay air base outside Paris as a precaution for inspection, Defense Ministry spokesman Gerard Gachet said.
Defense officials say the president and his entourage were transferred to another aircraft, a Falcon 900, and took off shortly thereafter. Hollande is due to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss Europe's financial crisis.
It was a stormy presidential beginning for a man who promised to be a more "normal" president and less flashy than predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.
Hollande walked up the steps of the Elysee Palace in Paris and walked out Tuesday as France's first Socialist president since 1995, taking the helm of a country worried about Europe's future and pledging to make it a fairer place.
The 57-year-old rode to the presidency on a wave of resurgent leftist sentiment amid Europe's debt woes and protests against capitalism around the world.
After a ceremony steeped in tradition, Hollande displayed his populist touch with a rain-soaked ride up the Champs-Elysees avenue, standing tall in his vehicle's sunroof to wave to crowds lining the streets before getting out for handshakes with adoring crowds.
Hollande then left within hours on his first diplomatic foray to Berlin, following a postwar custom for new French leaders to reach out to their German counterparts to solidify European unity. He also named a moderate, Germany-friendly member of his Socialist party, Jean-Marc Ayrault, as his prime minster.
Hollande and Merkel are in different camps, however, when it comes to solving Europe's debt crisis. While new figures Tuesday showed the 17-nation eurozone has avoided a new recession, thanks largely to Germany, new political turmoil in Greece was reviving fears about the fate of their shared euro currency.