Sarkozy launches political comeback at Lille rally

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Media captionLucy Williamson reports from Nicolas Sarkozy's rally near Lille

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has re-launched his political career with a rally near the city of Lille.

Correspondents said he was aiming to win back young voters there who had backed the far right National Front in May's European elections.

Last week, Mr Sarkozy announced he would seek the leadership of the centre-right UMP party.

The rally comes a day after a court suspended an inquiry into allegations of corruption against Mr Sarkozy.

He denies the allegations and has requested that the case be dismissed.

The BBC's Lucy Williamson, who was at the rally in Lambersart, a suburb of the northeastern city of Lille, says Mr Sarkozy, 59, appeared to be adopting a softer, more humble image.

Although he was launching his campaign for leadership of the UMP, his speech at times felt more like a bid for the nation's presidency, she says.

"My dear friends, it is a long walk that we are starting in the service of France," he said.

"I have had time to think about what we did, and to you the people of France, I wanted to say thank you."

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Image caption Thousands packed the gymnasium to hear Mr Sarkozy's address

Mr Sarkozy's leadership bid for the UMP is considered by many as a first step towards a presidential bid in 2017.

He was defeated by Francois Hollande in the 2012 election, becoming the first French president not to be re-elected for a second term since 1981.

But opinion polls now suggest President Hollande has become the most unpopular French president in modern times.

Although he has kept a low profile since leaving office, Mr Sarkozy has faced a series of investigations.

The case suspended on Wednesday relates to an alleged attempt to influence judges who were looking into his affairs.

Other inquiries include one into his links with late Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi and another into illegal campaign funding in 2012.

Mr Sarkozy denies any wrongdoing.

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