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France's Sarkozy returns to political stage

PARIS -- A little over a year after he declared he would leave politics for good, France's Nicolas Sarkozy is back in the spotlight.

The combative ex-president attended a meeting Monday of his troubled UMP party, where he was welcomed like a star. It could mark his first step toward candidacy in the next presidential election in 2017.

Sarkozy, 58, had not made a political appearance since he lost the presidency to Socialist François Hollande in May 2012, after just one term in office. He also had not attended a UMP party meeting since 2007, when he was elected president. Some 800 UMP politicians were invited to yesterday's event, closed to the media.

He spoke for half an hour about democratic pluralism, European issues such as the economic crisis, and French competitiveness. "This is not my political comeback. The day I will speak again, that will be to speak to the French about France," Sarkozy said, according to the extracts published on his official Twitter account.

His supporters clearly regarded his comment about the future as good news. As Sarkozy left the UMP headquarters, they chanted "Nicolas, president," and he thanked them.

"That was a very important message, of friendship and solidarity with our political family," said party leader Jean-François Cope.

Last year, Sarkozy said that, if voted out of office, he would "completely change my life. You won't hear from me." Later, he explained he aspired to a new life with his wife, singer and former model Carla Bruni, and their now-18-month-old daughter, Giulia.

But much has changed since then.

Sarkozy appears to be rejoining the political fray because of the embarrassing state his old party finds itself in. His party, France's center-right Union for a Popular Movement, faced a farcical election for a new leader last year that left it badly divided. And now it's on the edge of bankruptcy.

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