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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 20:53 GMT 21:53 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.

Mr Le Pen immediately accused the French president of attacking the rules of democracy by refusing.

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".

He was in part backed by an opinion survey, conducted by CSA which showed seven out of 10 French people wanted to see a debate between the two.

Launch new window : Voters' voices
In pictures: French voters have their say

Mr Le Pen, speaking in a French television interview, said he would outline his plans to pull France out of the European Union when he visits the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday.

Mr Le Pen said the run-off in two weeks' time would be as big a surprise as the opening round last Sunday.

France is confronted with a grave situation. What is at stake is its soul, its cohesion, its role in Europe and the world

Jacques Chirac

The National Front leader repeated pledges to seek French withdrawal from the European Union, to restore the franc and deport illegal immigrants.

Street protests against Mr Le Pen's success have continued, with students marching in Paris and other cities such as Lyon, Rennes, Orleans and Rouen.

French political leaders are stepping up efforts to oppose him, with a defeated candidate, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, adding his weight to the campaign to bolster Mr Chirac.

Click here for the election results

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.

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

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

  • "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."

    A student confederation 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.

    Click here to return

    The BBC's Jon Sopel in Paris
    "For many in France voting for Chirac will be the most difficult thing they will do"
    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:

    24 Apr 02 | UK Politics
    Le Pen policies 'repellent' - Blair
    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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