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Trial Beween French President Sarkozy, Former PM de Villepin Ends

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A high-profile trial has wrapped up in France Friday pitting two bitter political rivals - French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former prime minister Dominique de Villepin, who stands accused of participating in a smear campaign against Mr. Sarkozy five years ago.

Known as the "Clearstream affair," the trial has riveted France. It ended Friday and the verdict is expected in late January. Prosecutors demanded an 18-month suspended sentence against the most high-profile defendent - former prime minister Dominique de Villepin. He also faces a $70,000 fine if found guilty of slander and complicity to use forgery, among other charges.

The case is a tangled one, involving a number of prominent defendents and plaintiffs, including President Nicolas Sarkozy. Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. de Villepin are longterm rivals. The prosecution claims Mr. de Villepin conspired to discredit Mr. Sarkozy by implicating him in a bogus list of people who allegedly received kickbacks in an arms deal.

The affair erupted when both Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. de Villepin were vying to succeed former president Jacques Chirac as head of state.

Mr. de Villepin claims he is innocent and has accused Mr. Sarkozy of hanging him "from a butcher's hook." His lawyer, Olivier Metzner, has offered a passionate defense of his client.

Metzner told reporters the trial is based on pure fabrication and the dossier against Mr. de Villepin is empty. Mr. de Villepin, he said, is being blamed for having done nothing.

One thing is certain - the trial has cast a shadow on France's political elite, regardless of what verdict is delivered.