Briefly: Sarkozy’s party battles to save itself

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PARIS — Former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative party held emergency meetings Sunday to try to figure out who’s in charge, after a disputed election for its new leader that could reshape French politics.

After a decade at the helm of one of the world’s leading economies, the Union for a Popular Movement party is now in shambles and may fall apart altogether.

Central to its troubles is a debate among conservatives over immigration and Islam in France.

The election a week ago split party members into those leaning toward the anti-immigrant far right, represented by Jean-Francois Cope, and those hewing to more centrist views, supporting Francois Fillon.

Mr. Cope, who led France’s push to ban face-covering Islamic veils, was initially declared the winner. But uncounted votes then were discovered that could swing the vote in Mr. Fillon’s favor.

A Union for a Popular Movement commission that handles vote disputes convened Sunday to discuss what to do.

ITALY

Center-left primary held amid recession

ROME — Italians voted Sunday in a primary for a center-left candidate to run in spring general elections that will in large part determine how Italy tries to fix its troubled finances and emerge from a grinding recession.

If none of the five candidates wins the majority, a runoff will be held next Sunday.

The race is expected to come down to a faceoff between Pier Luigi Bersani, the 61-year-old leader of the main center-left Democratic Party, and challenger Matteo Renzi, the 37-year-old mayor of Florence.

While the candidates campaigned gamely and debate one another ahead of the primary, Sunday’s vote was overshadowed by speculation about the political ambitions of Italy’s current premier, Mario Monti, and whether ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi will run for office for a fourth term.

Berlusconi again threw a wrench in the primary plans of his center-right People of Freedom party by hinting Saturday that he was “thinking” about returning to politics.

Berlusconi has flip-flopped several times on the question in recent weeks, complicating efforts by his party secretary, Angelino Alfano, to rally support behind a party that has been tainted by a series of political finance scandals in recent months.

Berlusconi, who was convicted of fraud in October, resigned as premier last year amid personal sex scandals and legal woes, unable to convince international markets that he could balance Italy’s budget and pass necessary financial reforms to save Italy from a Greek-style debt crisis.

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