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The BBC's James Coomarasamy in Paris
"He's always denied involvement"
 real 56k

Thursday, 29 March, 2001, 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK
No-show Chirac faces press anger
Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and President Jacques Chirac
Mr Jospin (left) keeps quiet while Mr Chirac takes flak
French President Jacques Chirac has been facing heavy criticism in the French press for refusing to answer a court summons to respond to sleaze allegations.

A Paris investigating magistrate, Eric Halphen, wanted to question Mr Chirac about party funding when he was mayor of Paris.

The move follows a deepening scandal over claims that the president's right-wing RPR party received illegal funds in return for lucrative building contracts.

"Chirac fights shy of Judge Halphen" is how France's left-leaning Liberation views the president's refusal.

The paper says Mr Chirac is taking refuge behind the constitution and accuses him of conducting "a political defence which is legally questionable".

"By summoning the president," the paper adds, "the judge decided to act ... as if Jacques Chirac were just like any other citizen.

The French President at the Elysee Palace, 28 March 2001
'Non': Chirac says constitution puts him above the law

"It's war" is the daily Le Parisien's verdict.

"A new boundary has been crossed in the deteriorating relations between the judiciary and the presidential palace," the paper writes.

Meanwhile, France-Soir points out that most French people fail to understand why the president should be "untouchable", given that "a certain 14th July made all citizens equal in the eyes of the law".

A cartoon in Le Monde shows a judge, surrounded by cameras, at the gates of the president's office, shouting through a megaphone: "The game's up, Jacques!!! Come out slowly, hands on your head!!", to which is added in smaller writing: "And get a move on!".

Inconceivable

Other papers appear express criticism of the judge, especially over his threat to force the president to appear.

The Nancy-based French regional paper L'Est Republicain said: "It is obviously inconceivable to imagine that one can call on the police to force the head of state to give evidence."

The paper says under the French constitution, gendarmes could not force the president to the judge's office, which would mean the president could not be forced to give evidence.

Several newspapers have similar headlines, highlighting Mr Chirac's anger at being summonsed, and even at being addressed as plain "Mr" rather than "President".

The president, who enjoys immunity from prosecution while he is in office, said he would resist pressure on him to give evidence as a witness in the courts because he was the "guarantor of the independence of justice... I cannot be answerable to a magistrate".

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See also:

28 Mar 01 | Europe
Chirac refuses court summons
28 Sep 00 | Europe
Cheques, lies and videotape
11 Jan 00 | Europe
Court upholds Chirac's immunity
19 Mar 01 | Europe
Chirac's accidental victory?
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