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Sunday, 5 May, 2002, 21:33 GMT 22:33 UK
Chirac wins by a landslide
Jacques Chirac after winning election
Chirac: "France has reaffirmed republican values"
Jacques Chirac has won a landslide victory in the French presidential election after voters surged to the polls to keep out far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Results with 97% of votes counted
Jacques Chirac: 82.06 %
Jean-Marie Le Pen: 17.94 %
With 97% of votes counted, Mr Chirac had about 82% of the vote, while Mr Le Pen had 18%.

The turnout was 9% up on the first round, on 21 April, when a record abstention rate of 28% helped Mr Le Pen to beat Socialist leader Lionel Jospin to the second round - a result regarded as the biggest upset in French electoral history.

I heard and I understood your call to ensure the republic lives on, the nation rallies around, to make sure politics change

Jacques Chirac
  Text of victory speech

Crowds immediately began to celebrate on the streets of Paris, while Mr Chirac made a victory speech at his party headquarters.

"We have gone through a time of serious anxiety for the country - but tonight France has reaffirmed its attachment to the values of the republic," he said.

Later he went to speak directly to the people celebrating at the nearby Place de la Republic, where he praised them for refusing to cede to "intolerance and demagoguery".

Chirac supporters in Strasbourg
Chirac supporters celebrate in Strasbourg

Mr Le Pen admitted defeat, calling it a setback for "the hopes of the French" - but he pointed out his share of the vote had risen from the 16.86% achieved in round one.

He said France was in the hands of "robbers" - a reference to sleaze allegations that have dogged President Chirac in recent months - and pledged to continue the fight in next month's parliamentary election.

Mr Chirac, a conservative, scored a mere 20% in the first round - a record low for a frontrunner - but his margin of victory in the second round was the biggest ever in a French presidential election.

Reluctant voters

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair described the result as "a victory for democracy and a defeat for extremism", while European Commission president Romano Prodi said the French people had demonstrated that their nation belonged to the heart of Europe.

Chirac needs to take the concerns of his country far more seriously

A retired doctor among the jubilant crowds in Paris, 82-year-old Claude Guilmet, said: "It's total joy... it's the best result that could have been hoped for."

But the BBC's James Coomarasamy says the crowds are cheering the defeat of the far right rather than the victory of Jacques Chirac.

There were almost daily anti-Le Pen protests in France between the two rounds of voting, with 1.3 million demonstrators pouring on to the streets on May Day.

To register a protest at the absence of a left-wing candidate, some voters wore gloves or pegs on their nose as they cast their ballot.

New government

Mr Chirac has already served as president for seven years, but for most of that time he has been little more than a figurehead leader as a result of "cohabitation" with a Socialist government.

Second-round abstention rate
1974: 13%
1981: 14%
1988: 16%
1995: 20%
2002: 19%
On Monday he is expected to accept the resignation of Mr Jospin, and to appoint a right-wing successor who will lead the conservatives into June's parliamentary elections.

In his victory speech he said the top priority for the new government would be the fight against crime.

"Freedom means security, it means the fight against violence... Reducing violence is the first priority of the state in the times to come," he said.

Some observers have suggested that Mr Le Pen's success could cause the left to bounce back for the June vote - which Socialists are referring to as the "third round" of the presidential election - resulting in another period of cohabitation.

But a poll released on Sunday night by the Sofres agency, based on data collected last week, suggested the centre-right would secure a narrow majority.

The shock first-round result has been ascribed to a number of factors, including lower than usual turnout, a record slate of 16 candidates, and widespread disillusionment with the mainstream political parties.

The BBC's Janet Barrie
"This has been an exceptional election"
President Jacques Chirac
"We have just lived through a time of grave uncertainty for the nation"
Jean-Marie Le Pen, National Front leader
"The result I have obtained is remarkable, it places us as the main political force"
See also:

06 May 02 | Europe
In pictures: Chirac's victory
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