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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 January 2007, 15:02 GMT
Sarkozy nod for presidential run
French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy
Mr Sarkozy called for a show of unity, despite bitter divisions
The French centre-right has elected UMP party leader and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy as their candidate for the presidential polls.

The 51-year-old was chosen by party members via an internet vote. Just 69% cast a vote, but 98% voted for Mr Sarkozy, who was the only candidate.

Some 327,000 UMP members could vote. Many attended a lavish rally in Paris.

But President Jacques Chirac was not present, while several senior party figures had said they would abstain.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt, in Paris, says Mr Sarkozy was aiming for a show of unity, despite bitter divisions at the top of the UMP.

French Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal delivers a New Year message
A tough battle is expected with Socialist candidate, Segolene Royal

However, the result was not the overwhelming vote of confidence he would have liked - and disappointment flashed across his face when it was announced, our correspondent says.

In his acceptance speech, Mr Sarkozy promised to unite his party and his nation in a wide-ranging appeal to the French.

He promised to uphold the centre right's Gaullist tradition but warned that France was now in crisis which only reform under his firm leadership could resolve.

"I want every one of you to be convinced of my fierce determination and of the infinite energy that I will put into making sure that the cause that unites us is triumphant," he told tens of thousands of supporters.

The UMP party was originally created to bring President Chirac to power.

But Mr Sarkozy has turned it into his own party machine - taking over the UMP leadership in 2004 and now becoming its unchallenged candidate for the election campaign.

He is trying to rally the French centre-right ahead of what will be a tough battle against the popular Socialist candidate, Segolene Royal, our correspondent says.

Voters divided

But the conference itself was overshadowed by Mr Chirac's refusal to attend.

While Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin made a brief appearance, he was not voting for Mr Sarkozy nor staying on to hear his speech in the afternoon.

The French are equally divided on Mr Sarkozy.

As a hardline interior minister, who has been tough on crime and illegal immigration, he will win few votes in the political centre or on the left, our correspondent says.

His pledges to reform France and to make the French work harder and longer are not popular with everyone, even if many voters are aware that the country cannot ignore globalisation nor continue to live beyond its means.

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