France's Sarkozy denies police ordered to investigate presidential rival

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy denied as "slander and lies" a newspaper report Wednesday that police intelligence agents had been ordered to investigate the real estate assets of his Socialist rival for the French presidency and her partner.

The report in satirical and investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaine follows the newspaper's report last week saying that Sarkozy's office had asked the Renseignements Generaux, or RG, police agency to investigate an environmental adviser to Socialist candidate Segolene Royal.

The latest report raised to a new level accusations of dirty political maneuvers in the campaign for the two-round election in April and May. Sarkozy and Royal lead the opinion polls, with Sarkozy at a slight advantage.

In a radio interview, Sarkozy rejected the new allegation that the RG had been ordered in November to investigate the real estate holdings of Royal and the father of her children, Socialist party boss Francois Hollande.

"It's not true, it's slander and lies. I formally deny it, just as police officials have," Sarkozy told Europe-1. He said such claims were intended to create a "smoke screen" to overshadow foreign policy gaffes by Royal.

The RG said Tuesday that it had called for an internal investigation of press leaks of its file on Bruno Rebelle, a Royal environment adviser and former head of Greenpeace France, reports AP.

Socialist leaders have stepped up demands in recent days that Sarkozy resign. He said he and President Jacques Chirac would decide his departure date without bending to pressure but that he would be out of office by late March.

Sarkozy has repeatedly noted that many other French presidential candidates including Chirac and Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin had held government posts while running for the presidency.