Paris Nicolas Sarkozy took over France's helm Wednesday in a hurry to make good on pledges to restore order to violence-racked housing projects, to rev up the economy and to bring political enemies into a dramatically different government - expected to be half women.
Change was the hard-talking, 52-year-old conservative's campaign watchword, and it was palpable in his first speech and family-friendly inauguration ceremony.
"Opposition to change has never been more dangerous for France in this world where ... everyone is pushing to change faster than the others, where any delay could be fatal," Sarkozy said after assuming the presidency from Jacques Chirac.
Chirac, 74, handed over the nuclear codes and the reins of the world's sixth-largest economy and waved adieu to the Elysee Palace after 12 years marked by diplomatic authority abroad but failed reforms and social tensions at home.
His muted, poignant farewell contrasted with the pomp of the inauguration - the 21-gun salute from the gold-domed Invalides and the Republican Guards prancing up the Champs-Elysees on horseback. Chirac's prudent presidency contrasted, too, with Sarkozy's impatient, less tradition-bound style.
The son of a Hungarian immigrant, Sarkozy is the first president of France born after World War II, though memories of that era loomed on inauguration day. He paid homage to French Resistance fighters and made European integration his first foreign policy priority: Hours after assuming power, he dashed to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Sarkozy names his prime minister today, almost certainly ally and four-time minister Francois Fillon. As soon as Friday, France may have its new government, streamlined, revamped - and with about half the 15 ministers women.
The new president sought to dispel his divisive reputation, but remains reviled by many on the left. Some 1,500 protesters marched Wednesday through eastern Paris, leaving from the Place de la Bastille, where postelection protests degenerated into violence on several nights last week.
Sarkozy's priorities on his first day as president echoed those of his campaign.
In a land where unemployment remains stubbornly above 8 percent, he promised to restore the values of "work, effort, merit." He wants to loosen labor laws to get people to work more hours and make hiring - and firing - easier.
He called for "order and authority," watchwords of his term as interior minister, when he cracked down on immigration and crime. He did not mention specifically the riots that erupted in 2005 in housing projects by largely black and Arab youth frustrated at discrimination and joblessness. Tensions still mar those neighborhoods.