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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 02:08 GMT 03:08 UK
Shock success for French far right
Jean-Marie Le Pen
Le Pen said it was a "big defeat" for main candidates
The far-right nationalist, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has won enough votes to take on Jacques Chirac to become the President of France, in the most staggering election result in European politics in years.

With nearly all the votes counted, it has become clear that the Socialist Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, has been eliminated as incumbent President Chirac's rival in round two on 5 May.



This is a sad day for France... the motto here is liberty, fraternity and equality... we cannot allow fascism to rise again

Tamzin, Paris, France
Speaking after it appeared that he would be knocked out of the poll, Mr Jospin said the result had come as a bolt of thunder and that he would quit politics after the second round of the election.

Thousands of people took to the streets around France after the preliminary results were announced, to demonstrate against Mr Le Pen and his anti-immigration policies.

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.

'Big defeat'

The final polls before the vote put the 73-year-old former paratrooper on 13% or 14%, compared with 18% for Mr Jospin.


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.


  • With 97.75% of the vote counted, Interior Ministry figures showed Mr Chirac on 19.67%, Mr Le Pen on 17.02% and Mr Jospin on 16.07%.

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

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

    He added: "The chances of me winning the second round don't depend on me but on the French electorate, the French people's desire to rip out the decay that is hitting our country."

    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.

    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 due in June.

    'Cataclysm'

    In fourth place, with nearly all of the votes counted, was Francois Bayrou, of the Union for French Democracy, with 6.89%.

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


    At issue is our capacity to live together and respect each other

    President Jacques Chirac
    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."

    Holocaust

    The far-right leader who in 1987 described the holocaust as a "detail of history" toned down his usual anti-immigrant rhetoric in this campaign, as law and order - his other main preoccupation - came to the fore.

    "It's the lepenisation of the campaign," he joked as both Mr Chirac and Mr Jospin called for a tough line on crime.

    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, is seen as honest but dull.

     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Jon Sopel
    "A political tidal wave struck France"
    The BBC's Phillipa Thomas
    "There are now demonstrations taking place in cities across France"
    Deputy leader of the National Front Bruno Gollnish
    "We are preparing big rallies everywhere in France"

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    22 Apr 02 | Europe
    04 Apr 02 | Europe
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