Reuters International

French presidential hopeful Alain Juppe attends the Les Republicains (LR) political party summer camp in La Baule, France, September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

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La BAULE, France (Reuters) - French presidential hopeful Alain Juppe on Saturday urged the conservative Les Republicains party to ban personal attacks in the campaign ahead of the November primaries to choose a candidate.

"We must do everything we can to have a real debate and not a bad fight. I propose a code of good conduct: no personal attacks," Juppe, an ex-prime minister, told the first gathering of the party after the summer break in the seaside town of La Baule, western France.

"I have been called the bonze (Buddhist monk) of Bordeaux. I will continue to be calm and serene," joked the bald-headed Juppe, who is mayor of Bordeaux.

In recent weeks Juppe's rivals and notably former President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Prime Minister Francois Fillon have traded barbs in an increasingly heated campaign.

Fillon, who served under Sarkozy for five years, said last week: "Who could imagine for one moment that General de Gaulle could have been placed under formal investigation?"

This was widely seen as an attack on Sarkozy, who is still dogged by judicial woes.

Sarkozy, 61, and Juppe, 71, are far and away the two top candidates for the November 20 and 27 primaries that will nominate the standard-bearer of their right-wing Les Republicains party for the presidential election in April 2017.

Given the governing Socialists' deep unpopularity, the winner of the conservative primaries is very likely to make it to the second round of the presidential election and beat far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen in that run-off, to become France's next head of state.

The soft-spoken Juppe has led Sarkozy in opinion polls for months, with his more divisive opponent dogged by legal problems and lingering voter discontent with the abrasive style that marked his 2007-2012 presidency.

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

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

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