France: Sarkozy announces political comeback

France: Sarkozy announces political comeback

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PARIS (AP) — Nicolas Sarkozy may want his old job back.

The man who led France from 2007 to 2012 announced Friday on Facebook that he's joining the race to lead his conservative UMP party in elections next month. The widely expected move is seen as a first step toward running for president in 2017.

Sarkozy, the 59-year-old husband of model-turned-singer Carla Bruni, faces a string of legal problems. But that doesn't appear to be holding him back from staging a political return.

When he left the Elysee Palace in 2012, Sarkozy said he was leaving politics and would find a different way to serve his country.

Now, his successor, Socialist Francois Hollande, has become the most unpopular French leader of modern times over his handling of the economy.

And Sarkozy's UMP party, which he led before running for president the first time, is a nest of divisions in a leadership vacuum.

So with polls showing some fellow conservatives want Sarkozy to come back, he wrote Friday, "I have decided to propose a new political choice to the French."

"I love France too much. I am too passionate about public debate and the future of my compatriots to see them condemned to choose between the desperate spectacle of today and the prospect of dead-end isolation," he wrote, in apparent reference to Hollande's weak presidency and the recent rise of far right leader Marine Le Pen, who wants France's top job.

Sarkozy came to office on promises to shake France out of its economic stagnation, but then he alienated voters with tough anti-immigrant policies and a lifestyle seen as too cozy with the rich as France went through the global financial crisis.

Since Sarkozy left office, he has followed his wife's concert tour and given speeches at international events — and has faced legal troubles after losing his presidential immunity.

Sarkozy was handed preliminary charges in an investigation into allegations that he took 50 million euros ($67 million) in illegal campaign funds from the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Charges were filed then dropped in another case, into whether Sarkozy illegally took campaign donations from France's richest woman, L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

In a separate case, relatives of French victims of a deadly 2002 bombing in Pakistan filed a lawsuit against Sarkozy and two former advisers for allegedly violating a duty to secrecy in the investigation of the case.

Meanwhile, the UMP's former leader had to step down amid accusations of financial wrongdoing in Sarkozy's losing 2012 presidential campaign. Sarkozy denies wrongdoing in all cases.

His main challenger for the conservative leadership may be former Prime Minister Alain Juppe, a 69-year-old who was once convicted of corruption himself but is now one of France's most popular politicians.

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