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French right wing in chaos after disputed vote

Former prime minister François Fillon has refused to accept the results of a leadership election that handed rival Jean-François Copé control of the opposition right-wing UMP. Party officials admit the vote may have been flawed.


France's right-wing UMP opposition was in disarray Thursday as top officials wrangled over the results of a leadership vote that the party admitted may have been flawed.

The UMP's top electoral committee said that the results would "in all likelihood" be different if all the votes were taken into account and asked the party's appeals body to take a decision.

FAUX FRIENDS François Fillon (left) and Jean-François Copé (right) hog the French headlines as their party election dispute boils over.

But the declared winner Jean-François Copé has dug in his heels and refused any mediation, adding to the crisis bedevilling the party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Copé defeated former prime minister François Fillon by 98 ballots in Sunday's leadership vote but Fillon has thrown the party into turmoil by contesting the official results, amid accusations of voter fraud.

Calling Fillon a "bad loser," Copé, an ally of Sarkozy, said he would ask the party's top appeals body "to take a decision whether to modify the results."

He was doing this "as the president of the UMP and to lift all ambiguity and guarantee total transparency on this election," he said.

"In this way we could end this Kafkaesque and depressing situation," he added.

Fillon has called on party heavyweight and ex-prime minister Alain Juppé to take over as interim leader and mediate the crisis, but Copé rejected that idea.

"I don't see very well what would be the object of mediation," he told Europe 1 radio.

"I don't want it because it doesn't make any sense," he said, describing Fillon as "a sore loser who wants to give moral lessons without ever applying them himself."

Juppé has said he needs to think about the request that he become interim leader, but sources close to Fillon have said he is ready to take the role.

Copé said he would ask Juppé to oversee the recount.

But Juppé added to the confusion on Thursday, saying he wanted to head up a specially created panel to look into the affair.

"I propose the creation of a body under my leadership that includes representatives of the two candidates and those who are not allied" to either rival, he said. He gave a deadline of up to 1900 GMT Thursday for this offer to be accepted.

"Above that I have no intention of letting myself be exploited in these obnoxious confrontations," he said. "What is at stake is just not the leadership of the UMP but the existence of the party itself."

Juppé, a co-founder and the first leader of the UMP, said "I cannot allow this disastrous scenario to persist without taking any initiative."

Fillon has said that Sunday's vote count did not include ballots cast in some of France's overseas territories that would have handed him victory.

Copé, the UMP's secretary general since 2010, has rejected any talk of overturning the results and warned that his camp was ready to raise concerns about alleged voter fraud in Fillon's favour.

The leadership crisis has dented the image the UMP -- still reeling from its loss of the presidency and parliament this year -- and is raising the spectre of a split on the right that would benefit the ruling Socialists.


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