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Europe

France's Fillon drops leadership claim

France's main opposition party is in turmoil after the loser in their recent leadership election contested the result. Although runner-up Fillon has dropped his leadership claim he still insists he is the real victor.

Former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon on Wednesday announced that he was dropping his bid to lead France's conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) after contesting the results of a leadership race against rival Jean-Francois Cope.

"I'm renouncing the presidency of the UMP," Fillon told TF1 television.

Members of the UMP, the party of former French leader Nicolas Sarkozy, had voted for a new leader on Sunday and Cope had been named the winner of that election on Monday, but opponent Fillon had initially disputed his victory.

Despite letting go of his claim to the top job, Fillon added on Wednesday that he lacked trust in the party's election appeals commission to confirm what he still believed to be his rightful claim as the winner of the leadership election.

Uncounted votes

Fillon's campaign team announced at a press conference earlier on Wednesday that their man had won the election, claiming that the initial count on Monday did not include a number of overseas votes. More specifically, Fillon's campaign manager Eric Ciotti argued that 1,304 votes from those residing in the overseas territories New Caledonia, Wallis-et-Futuna and Mayotte, which put Fillon in the lead, had not been counted.

But the party's election commission refused to recount the votes in response to Fillon's claims. The commission president instead responded that complaints should be directed to the appeals commission, which is headed by a supporter of Cope.

The charges from Fillon's camp on Wednesday followed a heated 29-hour vote count which was marred by both sides accusing the other of vote-rigging.

The political drama is likely to further deepen cleavages in the UMP and intensify speculation that the party could split. The episode could also boost Sarkozy's chances of making a comeback as leader of the opposition for France's 2017 elections, if party conflict persists. The ex-president has been careful to isolate himself from the infighting.

sej/slk (dpa, Reuters)