After defeat, France's left returns to in-fighting

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The Independent Online

In the first round of a post-referendum battle for the soul of the French left, Socialists voted at the weekend to depose their deputy leader, Laurent Fabius.

In the first round of a post-referendum battle for the soul of the French left, Socialists voted at the weekend to depose their deputy leader, Laurent Fabius.

M. Fabius, 59, a former prime minister, had defied party policy to campaign for the victorious "non" camp before last Sunday's referendum on the European Union constitution.

At a tense meeting of the Socialists' national council in Paris on Saturday, delegates voted by 167 to 122 to kick M. Fabius and eight of his followers out of the leadership of France's largest opposition party.

Although officially a punishment for having defied party policy, the vote is the first shot in a struggle for the leadership and ideological direction of the Socialists and the wider French left before the presidential election in 2007.

M. Fabius, who was previously regarded as a pro-European moderniser and social reformer, was a key figure - possible the key figure - in the French referendum campaign. By arguing against the proposed constitution as a formula for "ultra-liberalisme", or unfettered capitalism, he helped to bring a majority of the French centre-left into the "non" camp, in alliance with the hard-line and romantic left and the far right. By doing so, he leap-frogged several rivals, including the leader of the Parti Socialiste (PS), François Hollande, as a potential "unifying" presidential candidate.

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