Belgian b'caster apologizes for Sarkozy quip

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BRUSSELS -- Belgian public broadcaster RTBF has apologized for suggesting that French President Nicolas Sarkozy was drunk at last week's Group of Eight summit in Germany.

Belgian anchor Eric Boever told audiences that Sarkozy "apparently had more than just water to drink," before playing a clip showing the president staggering at his podium, gulping, giggling and addressing the assembled press with an aggressive, "So, what do you want? That I answer questions?"

The clip has since become an Internet phenomenon in France, being viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube. The Belgian broadcaster's version is the only one used, as the French mainstream media initially refused to report Sarkozy's bizarre appearance.

But the RTBF has now taken measures to repair what could have become a diplomatic incident. Boever himself offered his apologies to the French embassy in Brussels and asked that they be conveyed to Sarkozy's office.

"I apologize for the proportions that this is taking," he said, adding that his remark was made in jest. "I obviously did not want to offend French national sensitivities, especially since I am also French through my mother."

A spokesman for the president declined comment about the video, saying, "it is not common practice at the Elysee to comment on bad taste jokes."

Sarkozy, like American President Bush, is well known as a running aficionado and a teetotaler. His appearance before the press came after a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Internet chat rooms were buzzing with suggestions that he had been pressured into drinking vodka.

However, officials insisted that the president merely had a headache, while longtime Sarkozy watchers said that he sometimes appears strangely overcharged when he is in an ebullient mood.

The YouTube videos and the apology have since been reported in the French media, even though the original incident was not covered in France.

This has since raised questions about whether the French media is too sycophantic toward the president, and Sarkozy in particular. Sarkozy is widely viewed as having a combative relationship with the media, singling out journalists for attack and putting pressure on their bosses.

He also is close friends with some of France's biggest media figures: One of the witnesses at his wedding was Martin Bouygues, who controls TF1, the by far the most powerful TV network in the nation.
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