Reuters International

Nicolas Sarkozy, former head of the Les Republicains political party, attends Les Republicains LR political party summer camp in La Baule, France, September 4, 2016. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

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LA BAULE, France (Reuters) - Nicolas Sarkozy said on Sunday that party unity was the key to victory for his Les Republicains party in France's 2017 presidential election.

At the same time, though, he mocked a call by Alain Juppe, his main rival, for a code of good conduct in the campaign before the party's November primaries.

"There will be no victory if we are divided," Sarkozy told the party's first gathering after the summer break, in the seaside town of La Baule. "The first rule of these primaries must be that the choice that we make is respected by all. We must all stand behind the winner of these primaries."

On Saturday, the first day of the two-day gathering, Juppe had called for a code of good conduct to ban personal attacks in the increasingly heated campaign.

"I do not like a code of good conduct. I like good conduct," Sarkozy said, drawing laughter and cheers from the audience. "If you need a code, that's because there is already a problem."

Sarkozy, 61, a former president, and Juppe, 71, an ex-prime minister, are by far the two leading candidates for the Nov. 20 and 27 primaries. The winner of those contests will become the candidate of the conservative Les Republicains in the April 2017 presidential election.

The unpopularity of the governing Socialists means the winner of the conservative primaries is likely to make it to the second round of the presidential election, where he is expected to face Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front.

The soft-spoken Juppe has led in opinion polls for months. The more divisive Sarkozy has been dogged by legal issues and by lingering voter distaste for the abrasive style that marked his 2007-2012 presidency.

But Sarkozy closed some of the gap in June as Juppe's campaign lost steam. His ratings improved further after deadly attacks by Islamist militants in Nice and Normandy in July.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, editing by Larry King)

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