PARIS - A group of senior French politicians, from right, left and centre, have signed a petition warning against the "drift towards monarchy" in the style and policies of President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The petition - which has enraged the President and his closest supporters - was signed, among others, by former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who is a party colleague, and by the defeated Socialist presidential candidate, Segolene Royal.
Other signatories include centrist politician Francois Bayrou and Pierre Lefranc, a former head of the private office of Charles de Gaulle. Former President Jacques Chirac is said to have considered signing but decided not to.
Without naming President Sarkozy directly, the petition warns of a "drift towards a purely personal form of power bordering on an elected monarchy".
The scarcely disguised attack came as Sarkozy's popularity has slumped through a mixture of disapproval of his showbiz lifestyle and discontent with a sluggish French economy.
In a new CSA poll for the newspaper Le Parisien yesterday, only 41 per cent of those asked thought Sarkozy was a "good president of the Republic".
The petition, drawn up by the centre-left and fiercely republican news magazine Marianne, provoked an explosion from Sarkozy's supporters. They said it had been signed by a "syndicate of bad losers" wanting to challenge the democratic choice made by the French just nine months ago.
Royal and Bayrou were the President's chief opponents in the last elections. Villepin is a long-time party rival who faces legal action for trying to smear him in 2004. Sarkozy is said to have been personally wounded by the petition, which he regards as part of a media campaign to "lynch" a sitting President.