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France's Sarkozy denies political comeback at party crisis talks

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy insisted Monday that he was not returning to politics despite crisis talks with top officials from his UMP party and a series of public pronouncements.

France has been rife with speculation that the 58-year-old right-winger, defeated by Socialist Francois Hollande in last year's presidential vote, is taking steps to return to public life after his party was denied millions of euros in campaign reimbursements last week.

Sarkozy was greeted by dozens of well-wishers as he arrived Monday at the UMP's Paris headquarters for talks on the party's dire financial situation, but moved to dampen speculation about his return.

"This is not my political comeback. When I retake the floor it will be to speak to the French about France," Sarkozy said on his Twitter account shortly after going in for the talks.

"It will not be to speak of me, nor to speak of us. It will be to speak of them," Sarkozy said.

Sarkozy re-emerged onto the French political scene on Friday after the Constitutional Council, France's top constitutional authority, upheld a decision by election auditors to deny the UMP a reimbursement of about 11 million euros ($13 million) because it breached campaign spending limits.

In a statement on his Facebook page, the ex-president slammed the decision as "unprecedented" and vowed to "take on my responsibilities" to defend political pluralism.

He continued the criticism on Monday, saying on Twitter: "Respecting institutions does not mean accepting all of their decisions.... The council's decision creates a serious and unprecedented situation. The question is not that of the UMP, but of pluralism."

Sarkozy said France was suffering a "crisis of political ideas" and that the country needed to move beyond "20th century ideologies".

Party insiders have downplayed talk of a comeback, but UMP supporters are keen to see Sarkozy back in the limelight.

The party has been struggling since Sarkozy's defeat, with leader Jean-Francois Cope and ex-prime minister Francois Fillon embroiled in a bitter public leadership battle that has hurt its reputation.

Polls meanwhile show an overwhelming number of party supporters hoping Sarkozy will lead the UMP into the next presidential election in 2017.

And any comeback attempt by Sarkozy would be complicated by a series of ongoing investigations into party financing scandals, including allegations he took advantage of elderly L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt and took money from former Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi for his 2007 campaign.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130708/frances-sarkozy-denies-political-comeback-at-party-crisis-talks