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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
On the march with Le Pen
Demonstrators outside the Louvre
Skinheads and professionals mixed in the crowds
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Stephen Mulvey
By Stephen Mulvey
BBC News Online Europe Editor in Paris

They were a very mixed bunch, the supporters of Jean-Marie Le Pen, out on the streets of Paris to mark the climax of his political career.

National Front protesters carry bouquets
National Front supporters viewed the demonstration as a triumphal procession
There were skinheads and young Parisian professionals. But most of the thousands-strong crowd filing along the Rue de Rivoli waving the tricolour and chanting "Le Pen President" were National Front faithful from the provinces.

Each regional chapter marched with its own banner, usually preceded by a man or woman bearing a large bouquet.

High-ranking party members wore suits, the rank and file could equally be scruffy young villagers or carefully dressed pensioners in raincoats and hats.

Oddly, given Mr Le Pen's virulent nationalism, there were even foreign sympathisers, such as Jean Elsen, and his 12-year-old son Quentin, from Belgium.

"This is not just a national movement, it is a movement for the whole of Europe," said Mr Elsen - not the first to notice that the far-right has been gaining momentum in a number of European countries.

Police around the Louvre
A large police presence kept National Front supporters away from their opponents

What united the marchers was a desire for radical policies on crime and immigration, of the kind that Mr Le Pen is famous, or some would say notorious, for.

"I want law, and I want to apply the law," said Emmanuelle, a blonde, young Parisian.

"I want the real right to come to power. Mr Chirac is too soft."

Riot police had sealed off the centre of the Louvre, and parked in buses all along the Seine embankment.

The other side

But by walking through several police lines one could reach the Pont du Carrousel, where human rights groups and anti-racism organisations were holding a ceremony to mark the drowning by skinheads of a young man of Moroccan origin, on 1 May 1995.

The father of a murdered immigrant
The father of a murdered boy was one of many people of ethnic minorities at an anti-Le Pen march
Having seen not a single black face on the Le Pen march, France's ethnic minorities were well represented at this much smaller gathering, as they were at the day's biggest demonstration - a massive show of force by all those opposed to Mr Le Pen.

There were too many people to fit in the square where it began and the avenues chosen for the march past the Bastille, so they spilled over on to all the surrounding streets, effectively pedestrianising a large tract of the eastern end of the city centre.

Unusual supporters

Though Mr Le Pen's opponent on Sunday will be the incumbent conservative President, Jacques Chirac, it was predominantly young liberals who turned out to express their antagonism towards the National Front, waving placards with slogans such as "Into the Seine with Le Pen".

One depicted a condom marked Chirac - "for boys and girls" - implying that he was a contraceptive against the rise of the far-right.

"We want to show the far-right that they are a small minority, to take the wind out of their sails," said post office employee Anne Pachkuff.

There were probably few at any of the demonstrations who believed Mr Le Pen could win the presidency on Sunday - and, as he is unlikely to compete in the next election in five years when he will be nearly 80, his career is now almost certain to go into decline.

The battle will continue in the parliamentary elections next month, but the May Day protests are likely to mark the high-water mark of political passion for this presidential election.

See also:

01 May 02 | Europe
Le Pen's heroine St Joan
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