France's Sarkozy plays down new conviction at book signing event

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PARIS (Reuters) - Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Saturday played down his conviction for illegal campaign financing over his failed 2012 re-election bid, suggesting many people in France had doubts about this week's guilty verdict.

Sarkozy, 66, made his first public comments on the conviction - his second this year - during an appearance at a Paris bookshop to sign copies of his new book "Promenades", which is focused on his literary and cultural influences.

Hundreds of people gathered at the Lamartine bookshop to greet the former leader despite the verdict, something Sarkozy said was "very moving and very reassuring, regarding the state of the country's morale. People aren't fooled."

Sarkozy, who remains influential in conservative circles, was sentenced to a one-year prison term on Sept. 30, but is unlikely to go to jail.

He denies wrongdoing and has vowed to appeal the sentence, a move that in effect suspends it, and the judge said he could serve the sentence at home with an electronic tag.

Sarkozy's supporters have criticised the verdict as politically motivated, but his second conviction this year marks a sharp fall from grace for the man who led France from 2007 to 2012.

Sarkozy was found guilty in a separate trial in March of trying to bribe a judge and peddle influence in order to obtain confidential information on a judicial inquiry. He also denied wrongdoing in that case.

The two convictions could force Sarkozy to play a more discreet role in next year's presidential election. He had not planned to stand but, as a popular figure on the political right, he would be expected to support his party's candidate.

Potential presidential candidates who also belong to Sarkozy's Les Republicains party - Xavier Bertrand, Valerie Pecresse and Michel Barnier - tweeted message of support for Sarkozy, saying they backed his decision to appeal.

(Reporting by Yiming Woo, Stephane Mahe, Sudip Kar-Gupta and Marc Angrand; Editing by Helen Popper)

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