French centre-right split as Fillon contests Copé win

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French centre-right split as Fillon contests Copé win

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The bitter battle to lead the French centre-right opposition is descending into open political warfare between Jean-François Copé, who narrowly won the internal election, and the former prime minister François Fillon.

The defeated candidate’s supporters are claiming he actually won, after it was revealed that 1,300 votes from overseas had been forgotten.

Copé is having none of it: “The results have been declared. There are rules stating that if anyone contests them, they can go to an appeals commission. No problem, we’ll go to an appeals commission,” he said.

The battle for the future direction of the centre-right opposition is threatening to tear apart the UMP, France’s largest political party.

Fillon has proposed that the former foreign minister Alain Juppé take temporary control until the fight between the rightwing Copé and his more centrist opponent is resolved.

As if to underline the opposition’s woes, the party’s former chief and France’s ousted president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is to be questioned by a judge on Thursday over accusations of illegal funding for his victorious election campaign in 2007.