Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin insisted Monday that he had no presidential ambitions but showed no sign of sinking into the shadows after he was forced to abandon a jobs law that had sparked mass protests and strikes.
Villepin, calm and focused despite the stinging defeat, denied in a national television interview that he had lost favor with President Jacques Chirac or that the conservative majority had split over the crisis.
"I have always said that I have no presidential ambitions," he said.
Villepin, who has been widely believed to be the president's favored successor in elections next year, has said before that his first priority is serving the nation and not seeking the presidency.
But polls show the standoff over the jobs law has dealt a deep blow to his approval rating and his chances for the 2007 vote.
The eloquent and determined prime minister did not admit defeat Monday but said he had passed through "an ordeal, a very difficult time."
"The first lesson of a crisis is to change yourself," he said.
While rumors of his resignation have been swirling for weeks, Villepin said he would "continue to fight, continue to produce answers, to draw lessons and perhaps to come out with more experience", reports AP.
NATO's Boeing P-8 Poseidon was circling above the easternmost point of Romania at the time of the missile strike on the Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Sevastopol