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Chirac to Seek Re-Election in April - 2002-02-11

Just hours after declaring his candidacy for reelection, French President Jacques Chirac went on nationwide television Monday night to answer critics of his record and charges of scandal.

President Chirac struck a combative tone, as he defended his seven-year record as France's president, and denied any political wrongdoing. In a rare television interview on France's TF-1 channel, Mr. Chirac said his passion to serve his country drove him to run in April's presidential race.

Mr. Chirac announced his candidacy earlier in the day, during a visit to the southern city of Avignon. His declaration was no surprise, but analysts believe it was hastened by the president's falling popularity ratings and allegations of political wrongdoing.

President Chirac denied any outside factors had influenced his declaration. He also denied any personal involvement in a scandal that has roiled France in recent weeks, involving alleged municipal housing kickbacks, that took place a decade ago. In interviews this month a former politician belonging to Mr. Chirac's Rally for the Republic party, Didier Schuller, implicated Mr. Chirac in the affair.

Mr. Chirac said he had done nothing wrong during his long political career, which includes 18 years as mayor of Paris. But in answer to allegations of illegal party financing during the 1980s and early 1990s, the President suggested such activities were once a common fixture in France's political landscape, and practiced by all parties. Mr. Chirac is widely expected to run against Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, of the Socialist party, who has yet to declare his candidacy. Mr. Chirac used the occasion Monday to criticize the fiscal and social policies of Mr. Jospin's government.

The so-called cohabitation between France's conservative president and leftist prime minister has been an uneasy one, and insiders suggest the two men dislike each other intensely. But Mr. Chirac said he respects Mr. Jospin, although their political ideologies were different.