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UMP heads for split as rivals dig in heels

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François Fillon leaves his Paris home on Tuesday to meet with supporters (Photo: Mehdi Fedouach/AFP)
12:15 CET+01:00
France's right-wing opposition UMP Tuesday appeared headed for a split after a poisonous leadership battle as the twice declared winner Jean-Francois Copé rejected demands for a fresh vote.

The party faces one of the worst crises in its history after accusations of rigging marred a November 18th election pitting former premier François Fillon against hardline rival Copé.
  
Copé, an ally of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, on Tuesday brushed aside Sarkozy's suggestion  — reported by several informed sources —  for a fresh ballot, as his defeated rival also dug in his heels.

"The time is not right in the heat of the moment, in the bitterness . . . to say we must vote again right away," Copé said on France Info radio.

But Fillon struck back Tuesday after a meeting with his supporters, who said they were launching a new parliamentary faction which would be dissolved as soon as a new vote was held.

The new faction is to be called the Rassemblement-UMP.

At a peacemaking lunch Monday with Fillon, Sarkozy said holding a new vote would "avoid an escalation of the conflict", a party source told AFP — an account confirmed by both Fillon and Copé loyalists in the party.

Copé also said he had spoken to his mentor at length but denied that Sarkozy wanted a revote.

"This is what is being attributed to him," he said.

"I have not personally heard him say that."

Sarkozy has not gone public with his thoughts on the matter and has remained out of the glare of the media, despite having returned to Paris from a visit to China.

Copé said under party statutes a new election would take at least six months to allow time for campaigning.

"The time has now come to prepare for the future, to see how the statutes can be modified" to make the party play its rightful role as an opposition group, he said.

"The time has come to turn the page," he said.

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An election was held and its result was confirmed twice."

Saying one cannot bring down a fever by breaking the thermometer, he took a swipe at Fillon saying: "Maybe the reason why one lost was that the campaign did not fulfil the expectations of the people."

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