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African Leaders Relieved by Le Pen Defeat - 2002-05-06

Leaders of French-speaking nations of West and Central Africa are reacting with relief following French President Jacques Chirac's landslide victory over right-wing leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in Sunday's French presidential election.

The relief was evident in the messages of congratulations that were delivered to winning incumbent Jacques Chirac from across West and Central Africa.

France is home to many African immigrants and students, and there had been fear among many people here in West Africa that the French right's anti-immigrant policies would damage Franco-African relations.

In Senegal, President Abdoulaye Wade said he rejoiced over Mr. Chirac's victory, saying he was happy that French voters had demonstrated what he said was their distrust of the far right.

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo went a step further, openly saying he was relieved that Jean-Marie Le Pen had been defeated. The Ivorian leader said the French voters' decision not to support Mr. Le Pen had brought this former French colony to "reconcile with the France that we know and love."

France maintains close ties with its former colonies in the region, and many Africans had worried that a turn to the right in French politics would mean cuts in aid to the continent. There had also been widespread fear that a right-wing government would reduce the number of immigrants that it accepts from the continent.

Ivory Coast, Senegal and other nations remain heavily dependent on the former colonial power for economic and technical assistance. France is the number one trading partner of most of its former colonies in Africa.

Messages of congratulations went to Jacques Chirac Monday from other African leaders including Chadian President Idriss Deby and Togo's Gnassingbe Eyadema.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, newspapers hailed the victory of President Chirac over Mr. Le Pen. One opposition daily, Le Phare in Kinshasa, said French voters had prevented France from what the newspaper said would be a fall into racial strife and diplomatic isolation.