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Friday, 26 April, 2002, 18:30 GMT 19:30 UK
Le Pen lashes immigrants
Jean-Marie Le Pen
Le Pen: "No more racist" than Tony Blair
Jean-Marie Le Pen has said he will have illegal immigrants put in "transit camps" before expelling them if he wins France's presidential election.

The far-right National Front (FN) candidate used a news conference in Paris on Friday to rail at immigrants, saying they were an EU-wide problem.

Popular protest at his success in reaching the run-off in the election on 5 May shows no sign of abating with French students preparing for a weekend of mass demonstrations nationwide.

Few doubt that Mr Le Pen will lose heavily to President Jacques Chirac in the final contest but, in a sign of uncertainty, one leading polling group has abandoned attempts to predict the outcome.

Click here for the election results

"It's where we would put the illegal immigrants who try to cross the borders before sending them back to where they came from," said Mr Le Pen, announcing his camps proposal.

The ex-paratrooper said such camps already existed in the US and that his ideas were "no more racist" than those of British Prime Minister Tony Blair on asylum-seekers.

He added that a "special train" might be sent to Britain carrying asylum-seekers from the controversial holding centre at Sangatte.

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

A spokesman for Mr Blair immediately condemned the comparison, saying the FN leader sought to exploit a "serious issue".

The head of French anti-racist group MRAP, Mouloud Aounit, described Mr Le Pen's use of the word "camps" as "totally obnoxious", saying it harked back to Nazi concentration camps.

Pollsters damaged

Mr Le Pen also made a bitter attack on Mr Chirac, accusing the incumbent president of wanting "five more years of impunity" amid corruption allegations.

Jean-Marie Le Pen
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 Chirac used Friday to visit the town of Dreux, near Paris, where the FN won its first seat in parliament in 1983.

    While opinion polls have been predicting a massive majority for the president, the leading BVA company has announced it is not taking any further surveys before 5 May.

    BVA's Jerome Sainte-Marie said that failure to predict the result of the first round, in which Mr Le Pen overtook Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin, had damaged pollsters' credibility.

    It was a "totally unprecedented situation which has disturbed all the usual balances of political force and which is extraordinarily fluid from day to day", he said.

    Human rights groups and political parties have urged new mass protests this weekend in all major French cities, saying Mr Le Pen's presence in the presidential runoff was "shameful".

    An estimated 350,000 people attended demonstrations on Thursday alone.

    The biggest protest, however, is expected on Wednesday 1 May as the FN holds a traditional march in Paris honouring Joan of Arc, and its opponents demonstrate on the other side of the river Seine.

    Police fear clashes between the two sides and have made plans for about 3,000 officers - including 1,600 riot police - to be on hand.

    Click here to return

    The BBC's Matt Prodger
    "Jean Marie Le Pen has re-awakened France"
    See also:

    24 Apr 02 | UK Politics
    Le Pen policies 'repellent' - Blair
    15 Apr 02 | Europe
    One dead in Sangatte knife fight
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