- - Sunday, November 25, 2012

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.


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.

Italy’s president tapped Mr. Monti, a respected economist and former European commissioner, to head a government of technocrats to guide Italy until general elections.


Lab: Qatar man had new virus

BERLIN — A patient from Qatar has been confirmed with a new type of coronavirus, but it has shown no signs of being easily transmitted like the related virus that caused the 2003 global SARS outbreak, Germany’s national health institute said.

As a precaution, the World Health Organization advised medical authorities around the world to test any patients with unexplained pneumonias for the virus.

Previously, the organization had advised only testing patients who had been to either Qatar or Saudi Arabia — the two countries will all six reported cases.

“Until more information is available, it is prudent to consider that the virus is likely more widely distributed than just the two countries which have identified cases,” the organization said Friday.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute said the patient fell ill in Qatar in October with severe respiratory problems. He was brought to Germany for treatment in a specialty clinic, and recovered after a month and was released last week.


Bailout talks make ‘good progress’

NICOSIA — Cyprus’ potential international creditors say they have made “good progress” in negotiations on a possible bailout for the crisis-hit country and that long-distance talks would continue on securing an agreement.

The so-called troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund say they are awaiting the results of an investigation into how much Cyprus’ ailing banks will need to recover.

This will help determine the size of a bailout that won’t push the country’s debt to unsustainable levels.

The announcement, however, falls short of widespread expectations in Cyprus that formal confirmation of a bailout would have been announced Friday.

Cyprus sought international aid in June to support its banks which took huge losses on bad Greek debt and loans and to pay its bills.


Punk band member moved to solitary cell

MOSCOW — Russian prison officials say one of the jailed members of a punk band has been moved into a solitary cell following tensions with other inmates.

Federal Penitentiary Service spokesman Stanislav Volegov said on Rain TV on Friday that Maria Alekhina was moved into a “safe” cell at her own request.

Other prison officials said, according to Russian news wires, that Alekhina made the request over her perception that fellow prisoners had a negative attitude to her.

Alekhina and two other band members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, were sentenced in August to two years in prison on hooliganism charges for performing a “punk prayer” against President Vladimir Putin at Moscow’s main cathedral.

Ms. Samutsevich was released on appeal, but Tolokonnikova and Alekhina are serving their sentences in prison camps.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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