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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 May 2006, 18:35 GMT 19:35 UK
French PM survives censure motion
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin addressing parliament, 2 May 06
Mr de Villepin has seen his opinion poll ratings plummet
The embattled French government led by Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has survived a no-confidence vote.

The motion was backed by only 190 members of parliament, far short of the 289 needed.

The motion was never expected to be passed as the ruling centre-right UMP party has a majority in parliament.

The vote, the third of its kind since Mr De Villepin took office last year, was tabled by the Socialists over the Clearstream corruption scandal.

The Socialists accused Mr De Villepin of provoking "one of the worst crises" in years over claims that he ordered a smear campaign against his political rival, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

Socialist party leader Francois Hollande told MPs before the vote that the French leadership was not a government but a battlefield and had lost the ability to rule.

In response, Mr de Villepin went on the attack, saying once again that all the allegations against him were lies, which bred more lies.

He defended his government's record, and said it would not be diverted from its main priority - to tackle unemployment and stimulate the economy.

The debate will serve as a humiliating reminder that these are the twilight days of President Jacques Chirac's grip on power in France, as his government stumbles towards elections next April - in office but no longer truly in power, says the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris.

The scandal

For weeks, Mr de Villepin has been pitted against Mr Sarkozy as accusations fly in the Clearstream affair.

Both Mr de Villepin and Mr Sarkozy are tipped to be the right's candidate for the presidency next year.

It is alleged that Mr de Villepin, at the behest of Mr Chirac, commissioned a covert inquiry into claims that Mr Sarkozy had an account with a Luxembourg finance house, Clearstream, through which kickbacks from a defence contract were supposedly being laundered.

A judge conducting an official inquiry ascertained that the claims were false.

Press urges end to "soap opera"
03 May 06 |  Europe
Profile: Dominique de Villepin
11 Apr 06 |  Europe

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