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Judges question French PM in anti-Sarkozy smear campaign probe

[JURIST] French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin [official website, in French; JURIST news archive] was questioned by judges for more than 17 hours Thursday and early Friday in connection with an investigation of an alleged smear campaign conducted against Villepin's political rival, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy [official profile; BBC profile]. It has been alleged that Villepin may have known that Sarkozy did not own secret bank accounts as the smear claimed. Villepin told reporters Friday morning he was glad to testify, calling himself "a victim of slander and lies" for having been tarred with responsibility for the smear.

Sarkozy is a prime candidate to replace French President Jacques Chirac in elections scheduled for spring 2007. Villepin, who has been politically damaged by this scandal and the debacle over a new youth labor law earlier {JURIST news archive] this year is not running. AP has more.

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