New French government expected under PM Fillon

French President Nicolas Sarkozy reappointed Francois Fillon as prime minister on Sunday and asked him to create a new government.

The unpopular French president had been expected for months to make changes to his government ahead of 2012 presidential elections but doing so on the weekend was highly unusual.

Fillon resigned Saturday night, a required step before any new government can be put in place, likely later Sunday.

He quickly spelled out his priorities. In a statement shortly after being renamed to the prime minister's post, he said that this "new phase" would focus on strengthening growth to create jobs, promoting solidarity and assuring security for all French.

The conservative Sarkozy said in June that he planned to change the Cabinet once a reform of the pension system was adopted. The reform raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 became law Wednesday after weeks of strikes around France, including at oil refineries and depots that starved the country of fuel.

"Since 2007, despite the challenges, resistance, attacks, the president of the Republic has remained faithful to his reformist goals," Fillon said.

The strikes battered the image of Sarkozy who has had record low poll ratings despite the broad mandate to reform that he received when elected in 2007. It is assumed that in naming a new government he will try to create a solid base for the 2012 presidential elections, though he has not yet said whether he will seek a second term.

The popularity of Fillon, who has led the government since Sarkozy took office in May 2007, has consistently been several notches above that of Sarkozy despite his dry, businesslike aura.

France has had several "mini" Cabinet shuffles under Sarkozy, the latest in March. The biggest changes were made in June 2007, a month after the president took office, triggered by legislative election defeats.

Sarkozy's popularity has been at a steady low. A poll published Monday gave him a ranking of 35 percent. Fillon garnered a 48 percent positive ranking in the poll of 952 people by the LH2 firm. No margin of error was available but it would normall be plus or minus 3 percentage points for that number polled.