France’s ruling Socialists and the main opposition party of Nicolas Sarkozy were locked in a no-holds-barred verbal war Friday after the ex-president compared the court-ordered tapping of his phones to spying by East Germany’s Stasi police.

The spat came just ahead of local elections due over the next two weekends and was sparked by a vitriolic newspaper piece by Mr. Sarkozy, which drew a strong rebuke from President Francois Hollande.

Mr. Sarkozy referred to the feared Communist-era secret police in a piece for Le Figaro , in which he broke a long silence on mounting corruption claims against him that are undermining his chance of a comeback. “This is not an extract of the marvellous film ‘The Lives of Others’ on East Germany and the activities of the Stasi. It’s not the actions of a dictator against his opponents. This is France,” he wrote.

Mr. Hollande, who took over France’s presidency in 2012, immediately lambasted his predecessor saying: “To raise the idea that our country, our republic, might not be founded on liberty is to introduce a doubt that is baseless.”

“I have the feeling while reading Nicolas Sarkozy’s piece that overcome by a fit of rage, he wants to destroy everything to protect himself,” Interior Minister Manuel Valls said.

“I find what he has written scandalous and shameful, shameful for all the victims of the Stasi,” said Emmanuelle Cosse, the secretary general of the Greens party, the Socialists partner in government. — AFP