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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 19:00 GMT 20:00 UK
Chirac rejects Le Pen debate
President Jacques Chirac
It is widely believed that Mr Chirac will be re-elected
French President Jacques Chirac has refused to hold a televised debate with far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, his sole rival in the second and final round of the presidential election.

Despite some pressure to take on Mr Le Pen and his extremist views, Mr Chirac declared that such "intolerance and hatred" made a debate impossible.

The debate has been a feature of the presidential campaign since the 1970s, and Mr Le Pen has condemned his rival's decision as an "attack on the rules of the democracy"..

Commentators had warned that Mr Le Pen could put the incumbent president on the spot over the string of allegations concerning sleaze and corruption when he was mayor of Paris, as well as raising other awkward issues.

Mr Chirac however insisted that his decision was a principled one.

Launch new window : Voters' voices
In pictures: French voters have their say
"Just as I did not accept any alliance in the past with the National Front, whatever the political price, I will not accept a debate with its leader in the future," he told a campaign rally in the western city of Rennes.

"You must have the courage of your convictions and the steadfastness of your commitments."


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

  • Mr Le Pen himself is preparing for his major television interview since coming second in the first round of the presidential poll on Sunday, seeing off the Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

    A student confederation has called a mass protest to coincide with Mr Le Pen's television appearance on Tuesday evening, at the end of a day of demonstrations against his shock election success.

    During the day more than 70,000 people - most of them school and university students - gathered in Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, La Rochelle and other cities for a second day of protests.

    Elsewhere in France, Click here for the election results

    On Monday, a total of 100,000 took to the streets in France: placards reading "I am ashamed" were hoisted in cities from Lille in the north to Marseilles on the Mediterranean coast.

    Challenge

    Mr Chirac has called on voters to rally around him to preserve the unity of the republic and respect for human rights.

    But the National Front leader has been relishing his chance to take on the incumbent president, pledging to end what he calls a "decadent and corrupt system".

    Outlining his policies, Mr Le Pen has appeared to compare the European Union with the late USSR and predicted that France might disappear under the weight of immigration.

    In presidential style, he also commended the defeated Socialist leader for announcing his retirement from politics.

    "I think we must praise the noble gesture of Mr Jospin, who drew the conclusions from his failure," he said.

    Mr Jospin's Socialists and the other main parties of the left have called on their supporters to back Mr Chirac on 5 May in a concerted effort to defeat the far-right challenger.



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     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Jon Sopel in Paris
    "Jacques Chirac's campaign team are anxious to avoid raising the temperature"
    The BBC's Janet Barrie in Rennes
    "Chirac's message was that he is the one man who could unite left and right"
    Jean-Marie Le Pen, Leader, French National Party
    "Perhaps I can win the second round"
    Guy Mamadou, spokesman for SOS Racisme
    "We worry about the reaction of the extreme left wing"
    See also:

    22 Apr 02 | Europe
    French election in quotes
    22 Apr 02 | Africa
    Le Pen vote alarms Africa
    22 Apr 02 | UK Politics
    Blair: France will reject extremism
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