By John Irish
PARIS (Reuters) - Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Sunday he would run for the French presidency next year as an independent candidate, a move that could draw some support away from President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The 58-year-old, who was Sarkozy's main rival for leadership of the center right before the last election in 2007, is unlikely to win a large number of votes but his presence in the campaign could harm Sarkozy's chances by diluting support.
Pollsters LH2 said Sunday Villepin would get about 1 percent of the vote, down from 2 percent in its November 20 poll.
"I don't believe that the truth is on the right, on the left or in the center. I believe it's a mistake that in presidential elections we turn to political parties," Villepin told TF1 television announcing his candidacy.
Villepin quit Sarkozy's UMP party in February and published a political manifesto of his own. He was cleared by an appeals court in September of being part of a smear campaign against Sarkozy in the run-up to the 2007 election.
Socialist senator Andre Vallini said of Villepin's candidacy: "I don't think it's good news for us, but it's bad news for Mr Sarkozy... The right is a bit more divided again."
In recent weeks popular centrist Francois Bayrou and former center-right Defense Minister Herve Morin also launched presidential bids. Far right candidate Marine Le Pen is expected to win 13-20 percent of the vote in the April election, some of which could be drawn from Sarkozy's voter base.
Villepin, is best known abroad in his role as foreign minister in 2003 when France opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
He was chief of staff in the mid-1990s to former President Jacques Chirac, who named him prime minister in 2005 after stints as interior and foreign minister.
(Additional reporting by Sophie Louet; Editing by Peter Graff)