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Saturday, 27 April, 2002, 00:54 GMT 01:54 UK
At Home with the Le Pens
Andre Bellec, one of Le Pen's childhood friends
Childhood friend: We were always getting into trouble
test hello test
By Hugh Schofield
In Brittany
line
Jean-Marie Le Pen's home region of Brittany is, oddly enough, the part of France that has proved most resistant to his charms.


He was a tough one all right - hard just like his father

Andre Bellec
Childhood friend
Sunday's first round of the presidential election the far right leader scored only around 11% here - his second worst showing after the Limousin, which is President Jacques Chirac's heartland.

There is one blip though: in the Morbihan department around the picturesque sailing village of La Trinite sur Mer, the vote is more like 20%.

This could have something to do with the fact that it was here - nearly 74 years ago - that he was born.

Jean-Marie Le Pen and his parents
You didn't want to cross Jean-Marie's father
INot many people are left in this community of 1,500 people who remember the young Le Pen, but one who does is retired sailor Andre Bellec, now to be found quaffing his bottle of rouge in a waterfront brasserie.

"We were in the same class together at school and always getting into trouble. I remember we used to go out shooting the glass out of street-lamps with our catapults," he recalls.

"They used to call us the 'Terrors of La Trinite!'

"He was a tough one all right. Hard, just like his father, who I remember ran a fishing boat call Esperance - and you didn't want to get on the wrong side of him."

Brawls

Mr Le Pen's reputation as a bruiser followed him from La Trinite throughout his subsequent career as sailor, law-student, soldier and politician.

He lost an eye in one election brawl, and only four years ago was convicted of assault in another.

Local florist Alexandra Le Trionnaire
Alexandra Le Trionnaire: He can't be a racist
Something else he took from La Trinite was the memory of a picture-book France to which his propaganda constantly harks back.

Early black-and-white pictures show him on his father's boat or in the stiff clothes of first communion, and today's campaign pictures show him tanned and windswept at the helm of his yacht.

La Trinite forms a useful part of the Le Pen image.

The town is radically changed from when he was a boy.

The fishing fleet has been replaced by a smart new marina, and today it is smartly-dressed couples in faux-sailor knitwear who walk the promenade.

Agreement

The town is rich and has few immigrants.

It does not boast of Mr Le Pen, but nor is it ashamed - and there are plenty of people who admit his views appeal.


Crime is even beginning to take hold out here

Michel Dhedin
"He's a client of mine, so of course I can't say anything nasty," laughs florist Alexandra Le Trionnaire.

"But seriously, on a personal level I like him a lot.

"The media is always saying that he is a racist, but when I delivered flowers to his holiday house here I was surprised to see that a black woman opened the door - so he can't be," she says.

At a nearby pizzeria, owners Michel and Danielle Dhedin did not vote for Le Pen because they found his idea of taking France out of the European Union and abolishing the euro to be "ridiculous," but they said his views on crime and immigration were accurate.

Crime

"The people who voted for him are not weird racists. They did it because they are just fed up, and no one in Paris cares.

Le Pen on board his yacht
Windswept: Le Pen as man of action
"Crime is even beginning to take hold out here. We have more and more break-ins and car thefts," said Michel, 43.

Their son Florian, 18, studies some 30 kilometres (20 miles) away in the town of Vannes, which has a sizeable immigrant population.

"When I was at school they used to say I was a racist because I was from La Trinite," he said.

According to Florian, school was disrupted Tuesday when a group of young Arabs from outside the establishment burst in, sounded the fire alarm and told students to join an anti-Le Pen demonstration.

"They shouted and insulted any students or teachers who didn't want to go," he said. Like Florian, many people from La Trinite are fed up with being typecast as extremists because of the Le Pen connection.

Many of those who voted for him probably feel the same way.

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
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