French lawmakers have opened debate on a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin in connection with a scandal plaguing his government.
The censure motion filed by opposition Socialists has little chance of passing, because Mr. de Villepin's center-right party, the UMP, controls almost two thirds of the National Assembly. Still, the motion forces Mr. de Villepin to defend himself against charges that he is no longer capable of governing France.
The motion centers on an alleged government smear campaign, known as the "Clearstream affair," that has dominated the French media for weeks. The Socialists say the scandal has hurt the government's credibility.
News agencies have reported that Mr. de Villepin tried to smear Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy by falsely accusing Sarkozy of illegally benefiting from the sale of warships to Taiwan. Mr. de Villepin denies the accusations and insists he will not resign.
The leader of the centrist UDF party, Francois Bayrou, says he will vote for the no-confidence measure. The small party is usually allied with the government, and Bayrou's decision to side with the opposition has angered the ruling party.
But, Bayrou has also said his decision does not mean the party's 29 other lawmakers will also vote against the government.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.