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French former PM quits ruling party

PARIS, Feb 23 – French former premier Dominique de Villepin will not renew his membership of President Nicolas Sarkozy\’s ruling UMP party, in what could be a step towards his candidacy in 2012 presidential elections.

Brigitte Girardin of de Villepin\’s own United Republic party confirmed the announcement on Wednesday, the day before he is to meet bitter rival Sarkozy as part of consultations during France\’s leadership of the Group of 20 nations.

The two men have not met since a 2009 showdown when de Villepin went on trial for allegedly taking part in a smear campaign to ruin Sarkozy\’s 2007 presidential bid, but the ex-prime minister was cleared of all charges.

Prosecutors however have appealed the verdict and he is expected to be back in court, just as the campaign for the Elysee gets into full swing.

De Villepin launched his United Republic party in June in order to offer an alternative to what he called Sarkozy\’s "divisive" policies although he did not sever his connections to the president\’s UMP party.

Since then, de Villepin has launched a series of political broadsides against Sarkozy, who he described as "one of France\’s problems."

Then justice minister Michele Alliot-Marie said at the time that de Villepin should quit the UMP if he had "some dignity."

De Villepin served alongside Sarkozy under former president Jacques Chirac, but the pair fell out spectacularly over who should succeed him.

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A patrician former career diplomat who speaks flawless English, he won global fame for leading the charge against the US invasion of Iraq at the United Nations in 2003.

His smooth style — which his critics characterise as arrogant — contrasts sharply with Sarkozy\’s more brash approach. A published poet, novelist and essayist, he cuts a very different figure to the more populist Sarkozy.


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