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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Paris recoils at national 'mistake'
Defaced poster of Jean-Marie Le Pen
A defaced poster in Paris captures a widespread mood
Sheila Barter

"Unbelievable," said a young man shaking his head in disbelief, as he studied the front page of a newspaper carrying details of the extent of the triumph for far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.


It was a democratic accident

Bruno Rolland
To judge from reaction in the French capital, voters ousted the left from the presidential run-off entirely by accident.

"We didn't mean it - honest!" was the collective cry from the streets of Paris.

The French had been using the first round in the traditional way - to get their feelings off their chest, before getting down to the real business of Left against Right in the second round.

But this time the game went wrong.

Click here for a map of the election results by region

Never before had 16 candidates been competing for the protest vote.

Only once before had voters of the Fifth Republic stayed away from the polls in such huge numbers.

The poster reads: Blue for fear, white for rage, red for shame
A Parisian offers new reading of the tricolour
The result - a cocktail of apathy and protest voting - left the Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin out of the race, and out of politics.

A shocked public is facing up to the fact that the two remaining choices are the right and the far right.

"We have a choice - one is from the far right, the other is a crook," says self-employed Bruno Rolland.

"It was a democratic accident."

Paris accountant Pierre Mila says people would have voted differently if opinion polls had predicted Mr Le Pen's success.

Shock

Most Parisians say they are shocked by what happened.

"I didn't think it was possible, and I still can't quite believe it," said Danielle Montoudis, selling crepes on the side of the street.


Le Pen has suggested solutions to the problems of crime, and of young people in the suburbs

"Angry" young man
Several people said it might be a blessing in disguise.

"This is a bit of a warning, a wake-up call. All young people are sick of politics, but perhaps this will wake them up," said Rania Hassan-Abbas, student at Marcel Marceau mime school.

Some voters also say Mr Le Pen played an extremely intelligent game, tapping into people's fears about crime.

Duty calls

"Le Pen has suggested solutions to the problems of crime, and of young people in the suburbs, the other candidates didn't give enough attention to it, but Le Pen really focused on it," said one person who declined to give his name, but described himself as an angry young man.


I must go to vote for Chirac in the second round, even though frankly I don't like him

Parisian woman
"He is very intelligent - he knew the people were waiting for a future president who would tackle the problem."

Voters are now gritting their teeth, and preparing to do what they see as their national duty.

"I didn't vote in the first round, but I must go to vote for Chirac in the second round, even though frankly I don't like him," said one woman who described herself as disgusted with Mr Le Pen's success.

France has woken up. After weeks of apathy, at least people are talking about the election.



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The BBC's Janet Barrie in Paris
"This is a nationwide protest"

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22 Apr 02 | Africa
22 Apr 02 | Europe
22 Apr 02 | UK Politics
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