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Villepin shakes up French election

Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who gained international renown as his country's spokesman against the war in Iraq, has shaken up the presidential campaign by announcing he will run as an independent.

The move is likely to complicate life for both the Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande, and president Nicolas Sarkozy, who runs the UMP party that Mr Villepin served under.

By positioning himself as a centrist, Mr Villepin could take votes from both the other candidates. But the move was primarily seen in France as a finger in the eye of Mr Sarkozy since the two men - despite inhabiting the same conservative side of the political spectrum - are bitter rivals.

Mr Villepin was acquitted in September of charges he took part in a smear campaign against Mr Sarkozy. On Sunday, he criticised Mr Sarkozy for not protecting France's interests at a recent EU summit and imposing several rounds of budget cuts.

With growth slowing and difficult budget cuts likely ahead, both Mr Hollande and Mr Sarkozy have tried to paint themselves as beyond partisanship - possibly because they fear both established parties will be blamed for country's high debt levels and poor economy.

Mr Sarkozy has not even officially declared his candidacy yet, saying that in this time of crisis, he needs to focus on being a leader, not a candidate.

Mr Villepin, too, said his candidacy will eschew party politics and distanced himself from the UMP.

He also dismissed a deal forged last week to bind the countries that use the euro closer together, including giving officials in Brussels more oversight over national budgets. Mr Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were the primary authors of the accord.

"We're falling in line behind interests that are not those of France. I think we need more courage than that," he said.

Members of the UMP denounced Mr Villepin's decision, saying he risked splitting the party. While Mr Villepin has little chance of winning - it is still unclear whether he would get all of the mayoral signatures he needs to officially enter the race - he could play spoiler.


From Belfast Telegraph