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Villepin in surprise bid for French presidency

AFP PHOTO/FRED DUFOUR

Former prime minister Dominique de Villepin has joined next year’s presidential race with an announcement on public television on Sunday night that he has decided to take on his right-wing rival Nicolas Sarkozy. 

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In a surprise move, the suave diplomat best-known for leading the charge against the Iraq war at the United Nations in 2003, said he was “worried” to see “France humiliated by the law of the markets which are imposing more and more austerity.

Villepin, a 58-year-old political insider, has never run for public office. Under his mentor, former President Jacques Chirac, he served as foreign minister from 2002 to 2004 and as prime minister from 2005 to 2007.

Villepin and Sarkozy are bitter rivals and in September a French appeals court confirmed his acquittal over a political scandal in which he was accused of having smeared the future president.

The case centred on fake list of names that falsely implicated Sarkozy in kickbacks on arms deals with Taiwan. Sarkozy claimed Villepin was responsible for his name being on the list.

Earlier this year, Villepin’s name also appeared in connection with a scandal involving huge sums of cash allegedly handed over by African leaders to politicians.

Robert Bourgi, a lawyer widely reported to be close to Sarkozy, said he had personally handed over 20 million euros in cash from several presidents of France’s former African colonies to Chirac and Villepin, a claim both men vigourously denied.

Recently relations between the two men seemed to be on the mend. In his TV interview, Villepin said he had fought hard to rebuild a “calm and republican” relationship with the president, but he insisted his decision to run for president had not been made on the spur of the moment.

“This is a decision that I took a while ago and have been building on over the last few years,” he explained. “I have never changed my mind about it.”

Villepin will draw some votes away from Sarkozy, but opinion polls suggest his support among voters is currently very low.

A poll by LH2 released on Sunday showed Villepin with one per cent of the vote, behind Socialist candidate Francois Hollande with 31.5 per cent, Sarkozy with 26 per cent and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen with 13.5 per cent.

 

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