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France's season of scandal stirs rivalries within Sarkozy's party

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his government have been hit with a slew of scandals in recent months, most recently a tangle with French media.

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy waits for Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, on Nov. 30.

Francois Mori/AP

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This fall in Paris, scandal is in. With only about one-third of France approving of his job, President Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to regain his political footing. But three separate "affairs" allegedly over corruption and spying tied to the French palace have the country's ruling right-center party at war with itself.

The most potent is the "Karachi affair," revived by fresh charges of political kickbacks from a 1994 Pakistani arms deal. Then there's the still-nagging "Bettencourt affair," with its revelations that a former Sarkozy minister allegedly helped L'Oréal heiress Lilian Bettencourt skirt taxes in exchange for funding Mr. Sarkozy's political campaign. Plus, there's a brewing scandal over alleged government spying on journalists.

The Karachi affair is a complicated, twisted mess involving a $1.2 billion submarine deal with Pakistan, the deaths of 11 French engineers in Karachi, and alleged hidden kickbacks of $2 million in campaign finance. It brings out the knives among current power players who rose in the ranks under former French President Jacques Chirac and his rival Édouard Balladur. This includes Sarkozy, new Defense Minister Alain Juppe, and Mr. Chirac's former prime minister, Dominique de Villepin.

Mr. de Villepin, who wants to unseat Sarkozy in 2012, has become one of his chief critics – attacking Sarkozy's policies and persona as only an elite patrician from the French right can do. He recently dropped a political atom bomb – alleging that Karachi "kickbacks" funded Mr. Balladur's failed presidential bid against Chirac that Sarkozy was orchestrating.

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