Fractious Socialists strive for show of unity

18th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

LE MANS, France, Nov 18 (AFP) - France's opposition Socialists, deeply split since a May referendum on the European constitution, gathered Friday for a congress aimed at patching up their divisions ahead of the 2007 presidential elections.

LE MANS, France, Nov 18 (AFP) - France's opposition Socialists, deeply split since a May referendum on the European constitution, gathered Friday for a congress aimed at patching up their divisions ahead of the 2007 presidential elections.

As France emerges from one of its worst crises in recent history, with three weeks of rioting erupting in high-immigration suburbs, the search for common policies on immigration and integration was high on the agenda.

The three-day congress in the western city of Le Mans is a chance for rival factions to hammer out a statement of principle acceptable to all.

Party leader François Hollande told journalists that "one way or another" the party would emerge as a unified bloc.

"The French are asking us to offer an alternative. You'll see that the Socialists are conscious of their responsibility and are therefore united," he said.

Hollande himself looked set to secure his hold over decision-making, after a pre-congress ballot gave him 53.6 percent support, trumping his main challenger, former prime minister Laurent Fabius.

The party infighting broke out over the proposed European constitution, which was rejected by French voters on May 29.

Since then, it has appeared rudderless and rent by quarrels, unable to come up with a coherent alternative vision to that put out by president Jacques Chirac's conservative government.

The Socialists  governed France from 1997 to 2002 under prime minister Lionel Jospin, but lost power after a presidential election in which Jospin, a candidate, was humiliatingly beaten into third place by far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Ségolène Royal, a leading Socialist figure and Hollande's companion, said Friday the party had to make itself "credible" in the eyes of voters again.

An ally of Fabius, Jean-Luc Melenchon, said: "The congress has to serve for something. The 'synthesis' (common position) has to involve everybody or no-one, on specific things: a clear line on the 'no' to the constitution, a non-exclusive union of the left, and wages."

A member in the same faction, Henri Weber, predicted that the gathering would not be "bloody", after previous party congresses which broke into bad-tempered rows.

In an opinion poll for the newspaper Ouest-France on Thursday, 56 percent of French people said the party is out of touch with their concerns, and 67 percent believed it does not have a credible programme for solving the country's problems.

Surveys also show a surge of support for Chirac's government in the last three weeks of riots in high-immigration city suburbs, during which the voice of the Socialists has been largely drowned out.

Hollande, though apparently secure as party leader, has never served in government and is accused by some of lacking the necessary charisma for a presidential bid.

He faces possible challenges from several well-known names including Fabius, former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn and even Jospin.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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