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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 19:37 GMT 20:37 UK
Zidane urges French to reject Le Pen
French team for Euro 2000
The French team has been held up as a model of racial integration
France's star footballer Zinedine Zidane has called on voters to reject far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in Sunday's presidential elections and defend "French values".

Zinedine Zidane
Zidane scored two of the three goals in the World Cup final
Zidane - who played an integral role in France's World Cup victory in 1998 - also urged people to ensure that the apathy that marked the first round of the poll did not also become a feature of the second.

"People must vote," he told French radio.

"But above all they must think of the consequences that could arise if they vote for a party which does not correspond to French values."

Mr Le Pen, the leader of the National Front and an avowed enemy of immigrants, will face incumbent president Jacques Chirac in the second and final round of the ballot on 5 May.

Shattered illusions

Zidane, born in Marseilles to Algerian parents, adds his voice to sentiments already expressed by the French captain, Ghana-born Marcel Desailly, who wrote on his website that he was "shocked" by the results of the first round of the elections.

It is an undeniable fact that Le Pen's political party is a fascistic party

Marcel Desailly French captain
"I just hope for one thing: that on 5 May, the French face their responsibilities and return to reality to vote against Le Pen, because it is democracy that is at stake here," Desailly said.

Both men were part of a French national team which in 1998 was seen as symbolising a new era in French race relations.

Those who played alongside Zidane and Desailly include Lilian Thuram from Guadeloupe, Christian Karembeu from New Caledonia, and Patrick Vieira, born in Dakar, Senegal.

The victory of what became known as the Rainbow Team was described by pundits as a kick in the teeth for the National Front and Mr Le Pen.

After they beat Brazil in the World Cup final, he was forced to congratulate a team he had attacked as "artificial" and not authentically French

But Mr Le Pen's success at the 2002 polls has dealt a counter-blow to the sense of racial harmony that gripped the nation in the aftermath of the World Cup victory, just four years ago.

See also:

22 Apr 02 | Europe
French election in quotes
22 Apr 02 | Africa
Le Pen vote alarms Africa
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