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Sarkozy wins right to rename party 'Les Républicains'

A French court has cleared the way for ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy to rename his conservative party "Les Républicains." The rebranding is being seen as an attempt to revamp the UMP ahead of the 2017 elections.

A Paris judge Monday rejected demands for an emergency ban on former French President Nicolas Sarkozy changing his party's name from the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) to "The Republicans".

UMP lawmaker Daniel Fasquelle took to Twitter to hail the decision: "Freedom won! We'll be able to call ourselves the Republicans!"

A group of opposition parties, along with more than 140 individuals with the family name Républicain, had filed an emergency complaint to stop the move.

They argued that the new name was an attempt by the center-right party to appropriate France's Republican ideals for its own political gain - by alluding to the constitution of the Fifth French Republic, founded in 1958.

"We are all Republicans under Article I of the Constitution," lawyer Christophe Lèguevaques told Agence France Presse. Naming a political party as such would effectively exclude "two-thirds of the population" who don't vote UMP, he added.

This sentiment was echoed in an online petition which garnered 23,000 signatures: "If the Republic is 'one and indivisible,' the Republicans are plural and diverse. No party can claim monopoly of a name that is our common heritage," it said.

The court dismissed these objections, however, saying there was no justification for an emergency ban. A lawyer for the plaintiffs said they would likely appeal the decision. They could also file a regular complaint which would take several months to be processed.

New party image

A red and blue flag with the UMP's white tree logo

If the new name is endorsed, the UMP's logo will also be dropped

UMP politicians have defended the planned switch, saying they have no intention of usurping national values.

"The Republicans will be us, and you will be republicans," UMP lawyer Jean Castelain was quoted in French media as saying.

The controversial name change is widely being seen as an attempt to clean up the UMP's image, which has been tarnished by recent internal disputes and legal troubles.

Sarkozy, who held office as president from 2007 to 2012, kept a relatively low profile after losing the presidency to Socialist Francois Hollande three years ago. Since announcing his return to politics last year, he has taken on the role of UMP chairman, pledging to revamp the party before the 2017 presidential elections.

The UMP leadership has already backed the new name, expected to be formally approved by members in an electronic vote on Thursday and Friday. If "Les Républicains" is endorsed, it'll then likely be announced in front of some 20,000 UMP members at the party's congress on Saturday.

nm/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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