'Unity has been achieved': France's Socialists

21st November 2005, Comments 0 comments

LE MANS, France, Nov 20 (AFP) - France's opposition Socialists announced Sunday they had patched up damaging divisions after a marathon meeting designed to reshape their limping party into a real contender in 2007 elections.

LE MANS, France, Nov 20 (AFP) - France's opposition Socialists announced Sunday they had patched up damaging divisions after a marathon meeting designed to reshape their limping party into a real contender in 2007 elections.

"Unity has been achieved, our will is affirmed and the truth has been said," party leader François Hollande said after overnight talks in which rival factions agreed to put aside differences better to challenge president Jacques Chirac's government and conservative ruling UMP party.

"It's against the right we now have to start a movement," he told a party congress in this western town, accusing the government of opportunistically using the recent weeks of rioting in France to draw the battle-lines in the 2007 presidential elections.

"We have to go on the offensive," he said, promising "an audacious and credible plan" for the party.

Hollande, who looked certain to win a new mandate as party leader on Wednesday after rallying members behind him, is just one of several Socialist figures aiming to succeed Chirac in the elections.

His main rival in the party, former prime minister Laurent Fabius, will not be seeking to return to a leadership position, a close ally, Claude Bartolone, told AFP.

"He wants to get some distance," Bartolone said, leaving open the possibility that Fabius will go for the presidential candidacy.

The Socialist Party has long been struggling to present a coherent alternative to the government, ever since the last presidential elections in 2002, when its candidate, then-prime minister Lionel Jospin, was embarrassingly knocked into third place by extreme-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Chirac ended up easily winning those elections and his Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) ended up triumphing in parliamentary polls.

A 'non' result in a May referendum on the European constitution subsequently dealt a bad blow to Chirac, but in the Socialist Party it spelled even further disarray.

Although the party's leadership, under Hollande, had pushed for a positive result, a breakaway faction led by Fabius helped defeat the constitution and gave rise to acrimony between the two men.

Now, with both presidential and legislative elections due to take place in 2007, the Socialists are trying to pick themselves up.

Six hours of closed-door negotiations overnight gave Hollande a desperately needed text to brandish to claim the divisions were behind them. A large majority -- 571 of the 614 delegates at the congress -- then ratified it.

But the Socialists' biggest task remains coming up with a political direction that will be a viable alternative to that of the government -- which itself has won public support from both left-wing and right-wing voters for its tough stand during the riots.

The opposition party took the first step towards that goal by arguing for a "radical change of policy" in the poor suburbs, where the violence erupted.

"It is not only the problem of the suburbs that has exploded so brutally, it is that of all of French society," it said in a resoultion.

But its proposed measures -- more community police posts, early prevention of juvenile delinquency, obligatory community service, anti-discrimination plans -- all looked remarkably similar to those put forward by Chirac and his government in the wake of the unrest.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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