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French Parties Join Forces to Defeat Le Pen - 2002-04-23


With much of the world still digesting the surprise success of National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, France's right and left-wing parties are joining forces to defeat the far-right presidential candidate, who is running against President Jacques Chirac in second-round elections May 5.

Conservative and leftist parties have retreated to their separate camps this week, to rally their adherents. Conservative President Jacques Chirac, the frontrunner in the second round runoff next mont, wants to reassemble the different rightist factions in France for a so-called "new" and "modern" movement. But some key parties, including the center-right UDF, are skeptical about the idea.

Meanwhile, the Socialist Party is trying to reassemble after the stunning defeat of its leader, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who placed third in the first round of presidential voting Sunday. Mr. Jospin is retiring from political life and Socialist Chairman Francois Holland will be leading the party in parliament elections in June.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a top Socialist official, told French radio his party will rally back. Mr. Strauss-Kahn says Mr. Le Pen's strong, second place showing had deprived French of a real debate between the left and right in France. He predicts leftist parties will be back in force for that debate during the June legislative vote. Analysts partly blame Mr. Jospin's loss - and Mr. Le Pen's strong showing - on divisions within the left, reflected by many candidates in the first round.

But others say Mr. Le Pen's message, particularly against crime and insecurity in France, struck home for an amazing array of French. In a survey published Tuesday, Le Figaro newspaper reported more working-class voters were drawn to the far-right candidate, than to far-left parties.

Mr. Le Pen's strong showing has sparked real worry in Europe, with the Euro currency tumbling. Many experts see France following the same slide to the far right recently reflected in other European countries. Across France, thousands of students took to the streets Monday, to protest Mr. Le Pen's showing.

Mr. Chirac is now considering whether to debate Mr. Le Pen before the second election. The National Front leader says he is ready to take on the president. On Monday, Mr. Le Pen called on French voters to join him, promising to take France out of the European Union and the euro currency zone.

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