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'Republican' Sarkozy uses party congress speech to slam Socialists

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has taken another step on his bid to make a political comeback. A day after persuading his conservatives to change their name, he launched a scathing attack on the Socialists.

A day after more than 80 percent of the members of his conservative UMP approved the

proposed name change to "the Republicans,"

Sarkozy used an hour-long speech to a party congress in Paris to rebuff criticism from leftist opponents, some of whom have filed a challenge against the move. Critics see it as an attempt to claim the term for one party alone in France, where people from all political stripes routinely refer to their country as "the Republic."

"I would ask of those on the left who want to deny us the name Republican, what have you done for the Republic?" the former president told a cheering crowd of supporters.

"To those who accuse us of confiscating the Republic, I want to respond that if they had not betrayed it, abandoned it, degraded it, we would not have to restore it today," he added, referring to the policies of the government of Socialist President Francois Hollande, the man who ousted Sarkozy from power in the 2012 election.

While

a court issued a preliminary ruling in favor of Sarkozy's right to use the name Republicans for the party,

a final ruling is not expected for some time in the case which could drag on for more than a year.

For now at least, Sarkozy appears to be hoping that changing the name from the more clunky Union for a Popular Movement will also help shed some political baggage from his years in power, as he seeks to make a return to the Elysee Palace in 2017.

Greetings from an old political friend

While not appearing in person, an

old political friend sent greetings to the congress from Berlin

.

"Dear Nicolas Sarkozy, dear friends, I would like to send my best wishes for your congress in my name and on behalf of the CDU," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a short video message piped into the Paris venue, adding that she looked forward to their two conservative parties working together again in the future.

That this could happen with Sarkozy as president currently seems a long shot. First he would have to win the presidential nomination for his party in next year's primaries, when he expected to face two strong Republican rivals, former prime ministers Francois Fillon and Alain Juppe.

Not just that, but recent opinion polls suggest that more than 70 percent of French voters don't want him back as president. A poll published in the Saturday edition of Le Parisien showed that even among conservative voters, only about half support his bid to return to the Elysee.

pfd/ (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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