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France's May Day Observances Take Political Tone - 2002-05-01

In Paris, May Day observances focused on Sunday's presidential election. There were marches by both supporters and opponents of Jean-Marie LePen, the extreme right-wing candidate who stunned France by qualifying for a run-off election with President Jacques Chirac. Thousands of riot police were on the streets to keep the two sides apart.

After days of anti-LePen demonstrations throughout the country, supporters of Jean Marie LePen had their chance to march. About 10,000 people paraded with the head of the National Front in their annual homage to Joan of Arc. The turnout was double last year's, and the crowd included more middle-class French.

One woman said she expected Mr. LePen to win on Sunday and save France from moral decadence. Mr. LePen accused President Jacques Chirac of taking France away from its citizens and giving it to immigrants.

The anti-LePen demonstration, which was held several hours later in an attempt to avoid trouble, drew many more marchers. Estimates put the crowd at more than 200,000.

Many of the demonstrators were Socialists, Communists, and other leftists who are enraged that their candidate, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, failed to make the second round of the election. They are denouncing Mr. LePen at every opportunity.

Based on the street demonstrations, the math seems simple - President Chirac should win Sunday's election easily. But many of the leftists who demonstrated may not vote for Mr. Chirac, who is on the right side of the political spectrum.

One private poll reportedly indicates that among those who will actually vote Sunday, Mr. LePen's support could be as much as 40 percent.