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France's opposition Socialists failed to agree on a new leader and a platform, leaving the party more divided than ever as a congress drew to a close on Sunday.
Former presidential candidate Segolene Royal accused her rivals of being outdated and backward after they refused to rally behind her bid to take the party helm and reshape the left.
It was now up to party members to decide on their new leader during a vote on Thursday.
"Party members will now have their say," Royal said after talks collapsed in the early hours on Sunday. "They will choose between a return to outdated methods or a new Socialist Party."
Delegates at the three-day congress in Reims, the capital of the Champagne region, had hoped to unite behind a consensus candidate who would be endorsed by the rank-and file.
Socialist minority leader in parliament Jean-Marc Ayrault described the outcome as a "complete failure" after the congress failed to avert a split that would further weaken the opposition.
Royal, who was defeated by Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential vote last year, had promised to renew the left by opening debate on a possible alliance with centrists, a stance fiercely opposed by the old guard.
The 55-year-old president of the Poitou-Charente region will face off against Euro-MP Benoit Hamon and possibly a third candidate backed by her rivals.
While she could still win the vote on Thursday, Royal would face a tough task to lead without the support of the party's barons and expectations were that the bickering would continue.
The Reims congress was seen as a last chance for the Socialists to put an end to squabbling and get to work on restoring their credibility under a new leader before the 2012 presidential vote.
The stakes are high for France's main opposition party which has been unable to mount a credible opposition to Sarkozy since he took office last year.
"We are leaving this congress just as we came in," lamented Michel Sapin, a former economy minister who had backed Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe for the top post.
Royal's candidacy was propelled by her first-place showing in a vote by party members earlier this month in which her manifesto won nearly 30 percent of the vote, ahead of Delanoe and four other contenders.
Royal, the president of the Poitou-Charente regional council, drew much applause but also strong jeers during her address to delegates in which she called for a "new popular front" against Sarkozy.
The 55-year-old contender pledged to put her proposal for an alliance with centrists against Sarkozy to a party vote and called for unity.
"We need to heal all of the small and deeper wounds that we have inflicted each other," she said.
Martine Aubry, a former labour minister and architect of the 35-hour work week, was eyeing a rival bid and was hoping to draw Delanoe in her camp.
"The French people don't hate us, but we have let them down," Aubry told delegates on Saturday.
"If we are not able to take matters in hand, we could perhaps be facing the end of the Socialist Party," she warned.
The party congress was held amid much concern over the global economic crisis and the billions of dollars that the government was forced to unlock to rescue banks.
Former prime minister Laurent Fabius warned that France faced "an economic and social horror" from the crisis, with an estimated 300,000 jobs to be lost during 2009.
"We need to be ready for this," he told delegates.