Brushing aside talk of resignation, Dominique de Villepin has issued the latest of his almost daily denials of guilt, as claims of a political smear campaign continue to grip France. What has been dubbed the “French Watergate” was a key talking point at the prime minister’s monthly press conference. There, he maintained that the name of Nicolas Sarkozy was not brought up at a key meeting at the centre of the scandal, although the premier conceded his government colleague was mentioned in his role as interior minister.Either Sarkozy or de Villepin could represent the centre-right in next year’s presidential election. The allegations of a smear campaign date back to 2004,something highlighted by the premier. “What I want is for the reasoning of today, with today’s rivalries that are sometimes highly artificial and fabricated, not to be tacked onto that period,” he told reporters.“You can’t explain what happened in 2004 in today’s light.” The so-called Clearstream affair concerned claims that Sarkozy had links to receiving kickbacks from the sale of French frigates to Taiwan in 1991. The allegations were found to be false but the probe went on, leading to complaints that it was an attempt to discredit him.