Former French PM Villepin to run for president

AP News
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Posted: Dec 12, 2011 12:53 PM
Former French PM Villepin to run for president

Dominique de Villepin, the former French prime minister who gained international renown for speaking out against the war in Iraq, has shaken up France's presidential campaign by announcing he'll run as an independent.

The announcement on French television is likely to complicate life for both the Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande, and President Nicolas Sarkozy, who runs the conservative UMP party that Villepin served under.

By positioning himself as a centrist, Villepin could siphon votes from both candidates, but the move is being seen primarily as a finger in the eye of Sarkozy. The two men are bitter rivals, despite inhabiting the same conservative side of the political spectrum.

Villepin was acquitted in September of charges he took part in a smear campaign against Sarkozy. On Sunday, he criticized 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 Hollande and Sarkozy have tried to paint themselves as beyond partisanship _ possibly because they fear both established parties will be blamed for France's high debt levels and poor economy.

The election will take place over two rounds in April and May. Sarkozy has not even officially declared his candidacy yet, saying in this time of crisis, he needs to focus on being a leader, not a candidate.

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

"I am not for the republic of parties. I don't believe that truth lies on the right, on the left or in the center," he hold TF1 television.

He said France had been humiliated by "the law of the markets, which keep imposing on us more austerity."

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. 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.

Best known internationally for his impassioned 2003 United Nations speech against the United States' invasion of Iraq, Villepin served as foreign and interior minister under Chirac before being named premier. He left the office when Sarkozy became president in 2007.

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

On Monday, another would-be presidential candidate _ Kenza Drider, who wears a face-covering veil _ presented her platform at an improvised press conference in front of a Paris courthouse. Drider rattled off 30 mostly left-leaning proposals _ including capping salaries and devaluing the euro _ as well as her cause celebre, repealing the ban on wearing face-concealing niqabs in public.

Drider, herself wearing a niqab, said she hadn't been able to obtain any mayoral signatures and acknowledged she's very unlikely to get the 500 she needs to run. She urged a change in electoral rules to allow mayors to sign for candidates anonymously.

In the 2002 presidential elections, a plethora of leftist candidates cleared the way for far-right National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen to make it into a runoff with then-President Jacques Chirac, a result that stunned and scared many around Europe.

A National Front candidate, Le Pen's daughter Marine, is also running this year. She held her first campaign meeting Sunday, calling for a negotiated exit from the euro and criticizing her rivals for being too pro-Europe and anti-France.

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Associated Press writer Jenny Barchfield contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS spelling of Kenza.)