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I’m not quitting, says Juppe

PARIS, Feb 3 (AFP) – Former French prime minister Alain Juppe confounded predictions of his departure from politics Tuesday, announcing on television that he will remain at his elected posts until his appeal against a conviction for illegal party funding.

 The close ally of President Jacques Chirac, widely tipped as his possible successor, told France’s main evening news programme that he would fight to clear his name at the appeal hearing because he believed Friday’s sentence – a 10-year bar on public office – was excessive.

“I joined politics because I wanted to serve my country, to serve ideas, to serve my fellow citizens. And that is what I try to do… Does all that deserve to be wiped out at the stroke of as pen, in general disgrace? I do not think I deserve it. I think it is too much,” he said.

Juppe, who is 58, said he would retain his seat in the National Assembly and the mayorship of the southwestern city of Bordeaux pending the appeal which is due in about a year. However he indicated he wanted to be replaced as head of Chirac’s UMP party at its congress in November.

He admitted that he was guilty of the charges against him – that he organised the payment of party officials out of Paris municipal funds during the time when Chirac was mayor of Paris – and said that if the appeal court reconvicted him he would leave politics for good.

“Yes I made mistakes. That is clear. But you have to remember that for 20 years all the political parties had difficulties organising their finances. Many have been convicted… So it falls on my head. That is fine. The law must apply to me as to anyone else,” he said.

But he said the written ruling of the judge – that he had “abused the confidence of the people” – was what made him determined to fight back. “It was a disgrace cast over my whole political life. It was terrible,” he said.

Juppe said he had received an enormous amount of public support since last week’s conviction, from political opponents as well as UMP members and residents of Bordeaux – and this had also convinced him to stay on.

“In our way of doing politics, you don’t just leave the key under the door like that, abandoning from one day to the next all the people who say they need you. The people of Bordeaux said they needed me, so did the deputies in the Assembly, so did the people of the UMP,” he said.

Juppe’s decision to remain in politics for at least the next months averted the immediate crisis within the UMP that many in the party had feared if he stood down, with a period of potentially bitter in-fighting over who would replace him.

Chirac, who on Monday described his protege of nearly 30 years as a “political figure of exceptional quality, competence, humanity and honesty,” is known to want Juppe to remain as head of the UMP as a bulwark against the ambitious and popular interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

However by refusing to step down, Juppe has laid the UMP open to debilitating reminders that its leader has been declared ineligible for office, with the public eye inevitably drawn to Chirac’s own alleged role in the funding scandal.

The trial was the closest the judicial authorities have come to investigating Chirac’s personal knowledge of the scam and revived calls for him to be prosecuted as well when he leaves office and loses his presidential immunity.

Juppe told his television interviewer that he was concerned over allegations that the judge who sentenced him had been the victim of phone taps and attempts to hack into her computer. The claims are now being looked into in three separate investigations.

“These enquiries must answer three questions: were there or were there not pressures. If yes, what were they, who did them and why, and for whom? I demand the truth because it is important for my trial,” he said.


                                                              Subject: France news