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French presidential race takes a strange turn with spying allegations

French presidential race takes a strange turn with spying allegations

Did French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy order spies to dig up dirt about his Socialist rival's team?
That allegation, published in a newspaper Wednesday, left the Socialists complaining of a political low-blow to their candidate, Segolene Royal, and clamoring for an investigation. They even asked conservative President Jacques Chirac to step in.
Sarkozy, for his part, dismissed the claim as "utterly ridiculous" and threw a few barbs back at the Socialists.
In the volatile world of French politics, the affair might flare up or quickly fizzle out. In either case, the spying claims _ and the venomous back-and-forths they sparked _ set the tone for what appears to be an increasingly nasty campaign ahead of the April-May vote.
Sarkozy, the interior minister, and Royal, a former environment minister, have been neck-and-neck in the polls for months, and their teams are trying everything possible to make the numbers budge.
The spying allegations were published in Le Canard Enchaine, a satirical newspaper also known for its investigations. The weekly paper, citing unnamed officials, reported that Sarkozy's office asked an intelligence agency to probe Bruno Rebelle, who is the former director of Greenpeace France and Royal's environment adviser.
Rebelle filed a complaint on Thursday for invasion of privacy based on the suspicions raised by the newspaper report, his lawyer, Jean-Pierre Mignard, said.
Sarkozy poked fun at the Socialists for their reaction to the report. "It's utterly ridiculous. They need to get a grip and stay calm," he said. Sarkozy's office also issued a statement denying the newspaper's claims.
The growing tensions spilled into the normally sedate Senate. Socialist Sen. Jean-Luc Melenchon angrily left his seat and grabbed the arm of Sarkozy ally Brice Hortefeux, a deputy minister who accused the senator of "personally" feeding rumors to the press.
Royal, meanwhile, said it was up to the president of France to make sure the campaign stays clean.
"I don't want to go into the subject too much because certain people want to see me dragged down," she said. "I don't want that."
Royal has worked hard to promote the idea that she is above France's nasty, partisan sniping. But her backers ripped into Sarkozy.
Patrick Mennucci, a politician who supports Royal, complained of "dirty police tricks." Socialist leader Francois Hollande demanded an inquiry and said that, if the claims were true, it would show that Sarkozy was using intelligence agents to do his campaign work.
Hollande has been in an uncomfortable position for months. He is not only the Socialist Party leader, he is also Royal's romantic partner and the father of her four children. Sarkozy took that into account to come up with a biting comeback.
"I think Mr. Hollande should let Ms. Royal wage her own campaign," Sarkozy said. "Mr. Hollande is a male chauvinist. It is not Mr. Hollande who is the candidate."


Updated : 2021-10-24 09:06 GMT+08:00