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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
France stunned by Le Pen success
Thousands of people protesting against extreme-rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen, holding up the front page of the Liberation daily
The result stunned the French political world
France has been shocked to the core by the unexpected success of the far-right politician, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the first round of the country's presidential election.

Thousands of people reacted by taking to the streets in Paris and other French cities to demonstrate against Mr Le Pen and his anti-immigration policies.

In the most staggering election result in European politics in years, Mr Le Pen won enough votes to take on incumbent President Jacques Chirac in the run-off on 5 May.

Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin was eliminated from the race and announced his departure from politics.


The BBC's James Coomarasamy in Paris says that although the National Front leader had been climbing in the polls, no-one expected Mr Le Pen would upset the status quo in such a dramatic way.

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin
Jospin announced that he would quit politics
Thousands of protesters took to the streets within hours of the close of polls. In central Paris, police used tear gas to control the protesters, who threw metal barriers and smashed restaurant windows.

There were similar protests in cities and towns across the country. More are planned in the two weeks before the second round run-off.

Mr Jospin said the result had come as a "thunderbolt" and that he would quit politics after the second round of the election.

His party later called for its supporters to back conservative President Chirac in the second round to prevent an unexpected victory for Mr Le Pen.

Apathy vote

"It's a big defeat for the two main candidates," Mr Le Pen said on French television.

Jean-Marie Le Pen
  • Born in 1928 in the Brittany town of La Trinite-sur-Mer
  • Set up the National Front in 1972
  • In 1987 he described the Holocaust as a "detail of history"
  • Wants 200,000 new prison places, the abolition of inheritance tax and a renegotiation of European treaties

      Click here for a full profile

  • "There is first and foremost the rejection of the people who have governed them so inefficiently... and then the hope for change."

    A lacklustre campaign by the main candidates culminated in a record low turnout on voting day, with nearly 30% staying at home or leaving town to enjoy the warm weather.

    The shock was also reflected in French newspapers on Monday.

    The left-leaning Liberation had a photo of Le Pen and a one-word headline - "No" - on the front page, and the conservative daily Le Figaro's headline read: "The earthquake".

    Correspondents say Mr Le Pen has little chance of victory in round two of the presidential election, but his strong performance is a sign that the National Front could do well in parliamentary elections in June.

    The left will have an enormous job to fight and regroup... and its first task will be to choose a new leader

    Pascal Jacquemain, UK
    Read more of your e-mails here
    In fourth place, with nearly all of the votes counted, was Francois Bayrou, of the Union for French Democracy, with 6.9%.

    Mr Jospin's Finance Minister, former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, called Mr Le Pen's unexpected triumph "a cataclysm of terrifying proportions".

    President Chirac told his supporters that the preliminary result put in question France's future and its values of respect and tolerance.

    "Today, what is at issue is our national unity, the values of the republic to which all we French are deeply attached," he said.

    "At issue is the future of France, of even the idea we have of our country, of its great humanist tradition, of its universal calling," he said.

    "Also at issue is our capacity to live together and respect each other."

    Election themes

    The far-right leader had toned down his usual anti-immigrant rhetoric in this campaign, as law and order - his other main preoccupation - came to the fore.

    Voters declared themselves bored with both main candidates, who fought each other in the 1995 presidential election.

    Mr Chirac, 69, has been damaged by persistent sleaze allegations, while Mr Jospin, 64, a stiff former professor, was seen as honest but dull.

    The BBC's Jon Sopel in Paris
    "No one expected the National Front to be seriously bidding for power"
    The BBC's Bridget Kendall
    "The country's political landscape is in turmoil"
    Deputy leader of the National Front Bruno Gollnish
    "We are preparing big rallies everywhere in France"
    See also:

    22 Apr 02 | Europe
    French election in quotes
    22 Apr 02 | UK Politics
    Blair: France will reject extremism
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