Royal claims dirty tricks from rival after break-in at her home

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A break-in at the home of the French socialist presidential hopeful Ségolène Royal has sparked a war of words with the rival camp of the interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

The "intrusion" at the home of Ms Royal in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt prompted claims of a "dirty tricks" campaign as politicians return from their summer breaks to face the last lap in the run-up to the presidential elections in April 2007.

According to Ms Royal, she and her partner, the saocialist party leader François Hollande, noticed that their flat had been searched on Thursday evening when they returned from their holiday. They reported the incident to police, adding that nothing appeared to have been stolen.

But whenLe Figaro ran an article suggesting that valuable jewellery may have been removed from the flat, Mme Royal telephoned the French news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP). She complained that police, against her will, must have passed on information about the break-in to the Interior Ministry who then leaked it. "Everything had been turned upside-down. But nothing was missing," she said. "I consider it scandalous that the ministry leaked this information to the media, thus putting my family in potential danger."

Within an hour of the AFP report, the ministry denied leaking the information and a Sarkozy supporter, MP Roger Karoutchi said: "Mme Royal is losing her sang froid and is suggesting there has been some sort of manipulation. It's pure fantasy."

Police said they had no clues as to who broke into the flat. Mme Royal admitted "it would be a bit much" to suspect her rival of rifling through her belongings.