Fillon cries foul anew in French right leadership bid

Wed Nov 21, 2012 4:17pm EST
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By Nicholas Vinocur

PARIS (Reuters) - Former French premier Francois Fillon contested results of his party's leadership race on Wednesday, plunging conservatives deeper into turmoil just hours after the winner said rival factions had been reconciled.

Fillon, defeated by the more hardline Jean-Francois Cope by a razor-thin margin, said an internal election committee had omitted to count votes from three overseas districts which would have tipped the result in his favor.

Furious at being beaten by a more junior rival for a post that will be a launchpad for the 2017 presidential race - Fillon said he was dropping his bid to lead the UMP and would not rule out challenging the results in court.

"The UMP cannot be built on a lie," he said on TF1 television, calling for Alain Juppe, a party veteran and ex-prime minister, to take the reins while the party seeks a way out of the impasse.

Juppe said, however, he would only do so on condition the two sides agreed to work together, which was not yet the case.

The disarray among the conservatives is providing welcome relief to Socialist President Francois Hollande and his government, which has been plagued by gaffes and a ratings plunge. Moody's downgraded French debt by one notch to Aa1 from triple-A on Monday.

Fillon's camp said he would have won by 26 votes with those extra ballots counted. As the result stands, Cope was named the center-right UMP's new leader with lead of 98 votes out of 175,000 cast.

Sunday's contest was already held up by accusations of ballot-stuffing by both candidates.   Continued...

Former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, and former candidate for the leadership of the UMP political party, scratches his head before a prime time news broadcast at the studios of private television station TF1 in Boulogne-Billancourt, near Paris, November 21, 2012. REUTERS/Charles Platiau