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France: Sarkozy's party battles to save itself

Associated Press Modified: November 25, 2012 at 3:45 pm •  Published: November 25, 2012

PARIS (AP) — Parents struggle to explain it to their kids. Ambassadors struggle to explain it to their governments. The only thing that's clear is that French politics is a mess.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative party led one of the world's biggest economies for a decade and now, in the space of a week, has melted down into something that may never be put back together again.

A mediation effort Sunday failed to reconcile the Union for a Popular Movement party or figure out who's in charge, seven days after a disputed election for a new party leader. The conflict looks headed now for the courts. The outcome could reshape France's political landscape and eventually weigh on Europe's direction too.

Central to the dispute is debate among French conservatives over immigration and Islam in the country with Western Europe's largest Muslim population. The election a week ago split party members into those leaning toward the anti-immigrant far right, represented by Jean-Francois Cope, and those hewing to more centrist views, supporting Francois Fillon.

Cope, who led France's push to ban face-covering Islamic veils and talks of anti-white racism, was initially declared winner of the Nov. 19 election.

Then uncounted votes were discovered that could swing the vote in Fillon's favor.

Accusations of fraud swirled. Insults flew. The week wore on, and the party still had no clear leader.

On Sunday, a UMP commission that handles vote disputes met, then broke up in acrimony, the Sipa news agency reported.

Hope turned to former Prime Minister Alain Juppe, who said the dispute has been "irresponsible and disastrous" and convened both candidates Sunday night to try to mediate and keep the party he founded in one piece.

After the meeting, he tweeted, "The conditions for mediation are lacking. My mission is over."

Cope said the party commission should examine the complaints and declare a winner.

Fillon, whose supporters say that commission is too Cope-friendly, said he'd go to court instead to uncover "the truth of the results and return the voice to the party members." In a statement, he said Cope rejected the mediation effort and called him responsible for the party's "failure."

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