Jean-Francois Cope, Sarkozy ally, wins French UMP vote

Jean-Francois Cope, newly elected leader of the UMP (19 Nov)
Image caption Jean-Francois Cope appealed to Mr Fillon to join him, in a show of party unity

The French conservative UMP party has chosen Jean-Francois Cope as its next leader after a tight election marred by claims of fraud and ballot-stuffing.

Mr Cope, an ally of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, won 50.03% of the vote, defeating ex-PM Francois Fillon, who polled 49.97%, by just 98 votes.

The final result was delayed for more than 24 hours.

Mr Cope, the UMP secretary general, is on the right of the party, while Mr Fillon is seen as more of a centrist.

Party grandees had urged the two candidates to end their war of words, warning that the UMP had been damaged.

Different visions

Mr Cope, 48, said he had telephoned Mr Fillon, 58, to ask him to join him at the heart of the UMP "because our opponents are on the left".

"My hands and my arms are wide open," he told supporters after the result was announced.

"It is in that state of mind that I telephoned Francois Fillon this evening, it is in that state of mind that I asked him to join me."

Mr Fillon, speaking after his rival's victory speech, mentioned "many irregularities" in the electoral process but stopped short of rejecting the result.

He also warned of a deepening split in the UMP.

"What strikes me is the rift at the heart of our political camp, a political and moral fracture," he said.

Opinion polls had consistently given Mr Fillon the edge, but initial results on Sunday showed a narrow lead for Mr Cope.

The UMP held the presidency of France for 17 years, until May, when Socialist candidate Francois Hollande defeated Mr Sarkozy's bid for a second term.

The two candidates have different visions for the party.

Mr Cope is considered more right-wing. Last month he produced "A Manifesto for an Uninhibited Right" in which he claimed that gangs in the city suburbs were fostering "anti-white racism".

Mr Fillon is seen as sober and more restrained.

The winner will inherit a party in difficult financial straits, after a series of electoral setbacks over the past five years, culminating in Mr Sarkozy's presidential defeat to Socialist rival Francois Hollande.

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