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Saturday, 4 May, 2002, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
Old French town faces Le Pen question
Beaucaire
North African population lives in town's historic centre

The medieval town of Beaucaire on the river Rhone in southern France became a case-study after Jean-Marie Le Pen's stunning breakthrough on 21 April.

More than 40% of voters chose the far-right: 36.15% for Le Pen; 4.1% for his erstwhile deputy Bruno Megret. It was a near-record for a town of this size: 15,000 people.

Jean-Marie Le Pen
Le Pen secured more than a third of Beaucaire votes in round one
What gave the town good media value was its peculiar sociology. Unlike in most French towns, Beaucaire's burgeoning population of North African immigrants is concentrated not in ghastly out-of-town high-rises, but in the beautiful historic core.

The twisting narrow alleys and 18th Century mansions of the "centre ville" are a prize tourist attraction. Much dates from the early middle ages.

But local people speak of spiralling crime - drugs, thefts, vandalism - of benefit dependency and a contempt for authority. They call the town centre the kasbah.

Fears of a backlash

So how - after two weeks to let the earth tremor settle - are the first round Le Pen voters of Beaucaire going to vote in round two: Le Pen or Jacques Chirac?

Francisco Gaonea, a 47-year-old self-employed builder, is sharing a beer with his friend Khalil Jaoudi in Le Taurin bar.

Francois Gaonea
Francois Gaonea: Hopes Chirac will be president
"In the first round I voted for Le Pen, but I think the point has been made now, so I will be voting Chirac," he says.

"Everyone here knows why there was such a big turnout for Le Pen. It's not because people believe in him.

"But we wanted to express our unhappiness with the two main parties who've got us into this mess.

"So I hope Chirac will be president, then get a majority in the parliamentary elections so he can clamp down on crime, free up the economy, slim down the bureaucracy - and let people work," he says.

Like many others, though, Mr Gaonea fears that the vast media concentration on the anti-Le Pen demonstrations will create a backlash.

People who might have switched to Mr Chirac resent being typecast as "fascist" and could vote for Mr Le Pen again to strike another blow at the Paris establishment.


Nothing that has happened in the past two weeks suggests that the message that people wanted to give has been heard

Benoit Despierres
Insurance agent Benoit Despierres, 31, agrees.

A confirmed Chirac supporter, he knows from his work that there has been a big increase in crime in recent years. Many of his clients have chosen Mr Le Pen.

"It's little things," he says. "Bags being snatched, graffiti on the walls, cars being vandalised, teenagers smoking hash on the corner. But they add up to spoil everyday life.

"And I am sure this Sunday will see just as big a vote for Le Pen as in the first round - or even bigger.

"I'll tell you why: nothing that has happened in the past two weeks suggests that the message that people wanted to give has been heard. All they get is lessons from the left that democracy is in danger - it's ridiculous."

'Leaders removed from reality'

Among those who will be voting for Mr Le Pen a second time is Francois Savon, a 50-year-old aeronautic consultant who has spent much of his working life abroad.

Francois Savon
Francois Savon will be voting for Le Pen again
"Of course I am not Le Peniste. We chose him to show how much we hate the political class in Paris - so that the leaders who've been with us since the post-De Gaulle era can see they are living in a virtual world - totally removed from reality," he says.

Mr Savon is getting angry.

"And you know it is just scandalous - scandalous! - that they've spent the last two weeks saying that 20% of the French are fascists.

"The French aren't racist. They just want to get on with their lives. But if Le Pen only gets 15 or 20% on Sunday, the politicians will just pretend it's business as usual.

"That's why I'll be voting for him again."


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03 May 02 | Europe
26 Apr 02 | Europe
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